Ã‚ÂLifesaving has existed in Africa since time in memorial. Lifesaving began with life as the need for survival to our forefathers, the hunter and gatherers, had to adapt to the new challenges in several environment conditions, different climates conditions with weather and season changes in Africa.
Historical evidence of ancient swimming activities in Africa are depicted in ancient writing in Egypt, also a nobleman of the middle kingdom of (Egypt 2160-1780 BC) proudly record that his children took swimming lessons with the king’s children, but no mention is made of skills being taught (Cureton 1934).
In contrast of Africa early encounter with swimming, the continent has lagged behind in the aspect of lifesaving development vis-à-vis the other continents. Africa has the highest drowning mortality rate of 13.1 per 100,000 populations according to M.M Peden and K. McGee (2003). Even in a country like South Africa which is high ranking in the Human Development Index, drowning is listed as one of the top causes of unnatural death amongst children (Netcare, 2007). However, it is extremely difficult to obtain any statistical data of drowning mortality or ability to swim for African countries. An online research of data of the African national statistic bureaus publishing their data in the internet has given very few results in terms of data about causes of death in general and drowning in particular besides South Africa who puts the number of drowning to 1231 people in the year 2005 (Government of South Africa/Statistics South Africa, 2007). When collecting data in Kenya about drowning for sending it to ILS, we encountered difficulties in terms of how the accidents occurred, what actions were taken and whether people had swimming abilities or not. These data are not registered at the police station when one reports a drowning. This hampers the evaluation of interventions, prevention and rescue techniques. For this reason, this paper is based mainly on personal experience of having lived and worked in different African countries in this field. At the end of this paper, I will come back with the recommendation to do more extensive research about this matter.
In general we can say that ignorance among Africa population on water safety is rampant, a large number of African population do not know how to swim. Surprisingly enough, even those communities close to water bodies such as oceans, lakes and rivers do not know basic water survival skills. From water catastrophes that hit African countries like the ferry accidents in Mombasa Kenya, Bukoba Tanzania, and floods in Mozambique in which number of people died, shows an extremely high number of casualties due to the inability of swimming. Other drowning reasons are related to the failure to recognize potential hazardous conditions e.g. by overloading the boats/ferries, using outdated ferries which are obsolete by the western governments, sailing or fishing on stormy weather conditions and so on. In many cases therefore, the drowning is directly tied to risky and unsafe behavior and the lack of authorities’ concern to recognize the potential danger for which these deaths could be avoided. Lack of safe ways in which to aid persons requiring assistance is another major cause of drowning as most government and local authorities lacks a working mechanism placed to respond to occurrence of water tragedies in terms of trained human capacity, rescue equipments, rescue techniques and locations of the accidents.
Underdevelopment of lifesaving may be attributed to several factors, that is to say the economical state of Africa, the lack of clear government policies on water safety, people’s attitudes, weak or no sport policies in Africa, ignorance, the absence of lifesaving/swimming education in the physical education curriculum in public schools, slow technological advancement in the field of lifesaving, lack of scientific research in the aquatic field plus lack of professionalism in lifeguarding and lack of public aquatic facilities. Even where public pools are available they often pose a high risk as the present state of most of the pools is rather pathetic with poor water hygiene. I have witnessed a rescue being hampered in recovering a victim due to water clarity in the pool. So, in short, the reasons behind underdevelopment of lifesaving in Africa are numerous.
But what is the way forward to develop lifesaving in Africa? Is there any hope? Yes, there is hope for lifesaving development in Africa. Let me talk about this.
To begin with, much of lifesaving development in Africa will rest on government introduction of appropriate policies and implementation of the latter. Secondly, it depends of the will of people to change their attitude and, third, it relies on the support of other organizations.
Every country in Africa should be encouraged to establish a national lifesaving federation as it is through these national lifesaving federations which can make its government accountable for the development and implementation of water safety policies in the country. It is also through these national lifesaving federation that the ILS (International Lifesaving Federation) could propagate the advancement of water safety programs.
Every country should develop a water safety policy. This policy should be legalized with the country legal system or be acted in the parliament and should be well defined to govern all the aquatic safety activities and the overall lifesaving development.
In order to improve water quality and ensure pool safety, inspections of aquatic facilities can greatly assure a high standard of water hygiene and aid in minimizing risks for potential hazards. Each facility must be routinely inspected for potential risks. A complete inspection should be performed regularly throughout the year. The findings of these inspections are the basis for major maintenance works to be completed. For this, there should be regulations governing all aquatic facilities inspections providing a timetable for systematic inspection of the water and the surrounding areas. The problem of water clarity could be avoided by providing proper training to the pool attendants about basic pool maintenance/chemical control. This practice should be enforced by public health authorities inspecting and performing water test controls. It should be a must that water chemical readings are posted on the notice board for public attention at least twice a day. Failure to meet the required health standards should result in the closing of the facility.
There should be a mandatory insurance cover for all the aquatic facilities established by law as accidents cannot be avoided no matter how hard we train the lifeguards. Swimming pools, even those where permanent lifeguards are on duty, are not the only places where children can easily drown. Swimming provides fun and enjoyment but when certain precautions are overlooked it could result to accidents just like any vehicle driven for necessity, but can lead to tragedy with only minor miscalculation. 90% of children who drown are under some sort of supervision at the time. (Netcare, 2007).
On the intermediate level, Lifesaving and swimming should be included in all country physical education/sports and games curriculum system at the primary school, secondary schools plus colleges and universities. It should be noted that the first aim and objective of swimming is water safety, by teaching people how to swim means to enable them save their own life. Ability alone is however not sufficient. Positive attitude towards water safety is of paramount importance. For sure this cannot be achieved easily as lack of facilities will deter the development. But some of the training could be adopted and be performed in the natural environment e.g. the beaches, lakes, dams and rivers. I personally learnt all my swimming in a river nearby my primary school. Promotion of water safety awareness should be done throughout the countries by combination efforts of the governments, nongovernmental organizations, Lifesaving federations, swimming federation, schools, hotels and other recreational centers. Its upon the affected communities to look into considerations in striking a balance and finding ways how some of this activities could co-exist together with cultural values and norms. Lifesaving awards schemes awards should be encourage and promoted in all schools and other institutions with interest of water safety promotion, by doing so, lifesaving proficiency could be achieved creating urge of progression among the candidates to progress to the next stage of lifesaving thus continuation in attainment of lifesaving skills is guaranteed and ongoing.
Lifesaving should be encouraged or be mandatory learning unit within the states discipline forces such as the national police and the national army. National armed forces would offer a better arena for further lifesaving development in Africa as we have seen the success in the development and promotion of other sports by the armed forces. So the example of Kenya shows the success of athletic where all top athletics performance are drawn from the members of Kenyan armed forces for which these athletes have ample time for training and develop their talents to the fullest alongside carrying out their duty of the service to the nation.
Lifeguarding professionalism plays an insignificant role and is considered irrelevant in African aquatic institutions. The Lifeguard career is not well recognized and developed, many at times lifeguards do multi tasking e.g. being hotel waiter cum lifeguard, janitor cum lifeguard, teacher cum lifeguard etc. Lifeguard status should be elevated to a higher status. This profession and career should be given clear job description and official recognition. Only certified and qualified persons by the lifesaving federation or accredited lifesaving authority/organizations should be employed as a lifeguard unlike at present where every Tom, Dick and Harry are engaged as lifeguards despite their lack of qualification for the position. Alongside the elevation of the lifeguard’s status, they should be well remunerated for their motivation to provide total performance and to feel that this career is recognized. In addition to developing professional lifeguards, lifeguards must understand legal obligations required in the field and accept responsibilities of their actions.
Globally, lifesaving competitions should be included as an Olympic sport discipline in which African countries would take advantage as the continent has more potential talents in the lifesaving as a sport in general, I believe. African countries need to develop and promote lifesaving championships through their national lifesaving federations and ILS should petition the international Olympic committee (IOC) to elevate the lifesaving competition into an Olympic sport.
Most of African nations lack a clear sport policy or do not have a national sport policy hence a need to have African states to come up with a national sport policy that will also highlight lifesaving sport development.
Africa as a continent is economically weak as such the cost of building aquatics facilities is too high. Hence lack of public recreational facilities such as swimming pools prevails in Africa which would offer opportunities for the members of the public to acquire lifesaving knowledge and skills, some African governments have the capability to allocate some budget for the construction of these facilities as part of social amenities provided by the local government authorities. However there is a lack of awareness of this need.
The costs of lifesaving equipments are very high. As a result many countries in Africa cannot afford them, thus slowing lifesaving development in the continent. The cost of this equipment could be reduced for the developing nations. Also African industries should be encouraged to be more innovative to develop and manufacture some of the simple lifesaving equipments and not only to rely on purchasing from the outside sources.
National disaster committees or commission/board in every African state should include lifesaving personnel due to the fact that water related tragedies are the most frequent natural disasters in Africa. From our experience in Kenya it is also very benefitting for the Lifesaving federation to create collaboration and build partnership with other humanitarian development assistance organizations such as the Red Cross in their operations and plan a joint development action plan/agenda together. Such partnership with other humanitarian development agencies would help and assist lifesaving organization to catch abreast with the advancement of technology, updates on modern rescue methods, rescue skills, latest rescue equipments and ergonomics of the facilities. Over and above such partnership would bring about growth and development of lifesaving and the strengthening of lifesaving federations/organizations since some of these humanitarian organizations are well established and such co-operation and networking will be very beneficial.
Scientific researches on the field of the aquatic should be developed in Africa as the continent lack scientific research in lifesaving and aquatic environments. It’s my belief that such scientific research in Africa would greatly promote lifesaving development some steps further and would also go a long way in complimenting the already existing local knowledge.
Improvisation of Africa vest water bodies for the purpose and use for lifesaving activities as the continent is blessed with many lakes, rivers and surrounded by warm oceans throughout the year and if taken advantage it could be used to enhance lifesaving performance. The lifesaving programs could be designed to adapt the natural aquatic settings of a particular region.
Returning back to the beginning of this article, I still maintain that there is hope in lifesaving development in Africa I personally a have big expectation. With joint efforts of all the stakeholders we will be able to set the right course in order to stop this tragedy deaths of thousands people.