A warm climate and a long coastline are nature's way of telling us that the UAE is a fine place to go swimming at the beach. But too often, newspaper headlines deliver a very different message: even in good weather, a dip in the sea can be fatal.
The most recent drowning, of a British tourist who was at the Jumeirah Beach Residence shoreline with her daughter and grandchildren on February 22, is doubly tragic because it is the latest in a series of such cases. A newlywed man from Kerala suffered the same fate in December. Last March, two Britons died in separate incidents at JBR beach within two hours of each other. An Indian man drowned the same day at nearby Umm Suqeim 1 Beach. In several other recent cases, swimmers in difficulty have been saved by beachgoers.
There is no mystery about the problem in that area. The currents, invisible from the beach, can under certain conditions sweep even a strong swimmer away from safety; the same is true at other beaches along the country's 1,318 kilometres of coastline.
The solution, however, is not quite as evident. At least one surfers' group wants lifeguards at all beaches, but that would be very costly. Warning signs, with or without the system of coloured flags used widely around the world to indicate surf and weather conditions, are often mentioned and would be less expensive than lifeguards. Signs, however, would have to be in many languages, and flags would mean attendants.
As reported in The National yesterday, police have suggested watchtowers manned by lifeguards, and also wavebreakers, or barriers on the seabed to reduce currents and waves. However, some swimmers, not to mention surfers, object to anything that would interfere with the waves.
This is one of those problems that governments and officials cannot definitively solve for us. The beaches are long and the sea is vast, and anyone who steps from land to water needs to understand the risk.
That said, however, there are some simple, practical measures that officials should take. These begin with public education - multilingual signs warning every beachgoer to be prudent. Then come buoys to delineate relatively safe inshore sections. Finally, lifeguards, with watchtowers, could be assigned to some areas, including JBR beach.