x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Dubai sees spike in drownings, mostly children

Drowning cases in the emirate have more than doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, and children face particular risks.

DUBAI // Drowning cases in Dubai have more than doubled in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, and children face particular risks, according to officials. Of the 36 people who drowned in the first six months of this year, a quarter of them were children under the age of 18. Major Ahmed bu Ruqweba, acting head of the Dubai Rescue Police, said drowning cases involving youngsters are a big concern. "Keeping children safe is the main challenge for us. Leaving children unsupervised at a beach or pool can be deadly."

On August 5, a nine-year-old Pakistani girl died after she drowned in a swimming pool in her family's apartment building, which is located in the Al Twar area. A few days later a 17-year-old boy had to be rescued off the shore of Al Mamzar beach after trying to swim too far away from the shore. More than 70 per cent of the drowning incidents registered in Dubai last year involved children, according to Dubai Police statistics.

"Negligence is a main factor behind drowning cases. In many incidents drowning occurs when a child just decides to take a swim at the beach or pool while the parents are preoccupied with something else," said Maj bu Ruqweba. The major said swimming pools in buildings and villas were especially dangerous, and stressed the importance of parental supervision and following safety and health regulations.

Pools in residential buildings, hotels, offices and parks are monitored by the Public Health and Safety Department of the Dubai Municipality. The department's regulations state that a certified lifeguard must be present when a pool is occupied. They also require that safety equipment such as first aid kits and flotation devices must be available at all times. "Municipal inspectors check pools in buildings regularly to ensure all procedures are being followed," said a municipal spokesman.

But as the number of buildings with swimming pools in Dubai increases, there is immense pressure on the civic authority to ensure that the rules are being followed, he said. Najwa Hassan, a mother of five, said she always fears something will go wrong when they are at the beach, even though she keeps a close watch on her children. "I keep following them with my eyes and call them if they go far, but it is so easy to lose track of one of them, and an accident can happen within seconds," she said.

To increase safety awareness among children and make them more cautious, the Dubai Police rescue department regularly holds lectures in schools and universities. The department also carries out rescue drills in universities to make young people aware of the dangers of not following rules. "Spreading safety awareness is fundamental to our work because it is often a lack of understanding of the repercussions of certain behaviour that causes accidents," said Maj bu Ruqweba. "For example, many people - especially younger ones - swim in the sea even when there is a red flag warning people of bad weather conditions that affect the safety of the beach. They take it as a challenge, and this is very dangerous."

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