Reports that the National Conservation Commission (NCC) has significantly cut the number of lifeguards on Barbados’ beaches is nothing short of myopic and imperceptive. Life and safety on the beaches –– to both native and visitor –– cannot be left dangling on the bottom line of the NCC’s accounts books.
And while we empathize with the less than adequate numbers left to man our shores, the withdrawal of services of this irate group is tantamount to irresponsibility and borders on the very clinical and insensitive conduct of their blind and unsagacious employers.
At a time when the heavy summer holidays beckon we cannot find ourselves be beset by this madness.
Not very long ago, the community was welcoming and praising the NCC, rightly so, for the increased number of lifeguards on our beaches, given in particular the rise in unfortunate drownings each year.
Ten more lifeguards were boasted to have been added to an existing complement of 80, and though we did not consider it enough ideally to provide adequate coverage for the whole island, we were yet grateful for the thought put into it by the authorities: the regard for life of those venturing on our alluring beaches.
And while we conceded it would have been unrealistic to expect every beach to be manned by a three-member crew to supply daily services, we were sold on the idea the NCC was reasonably doing what it could –– and should –– to create the safest possible environment for beach users everywhere in Barbados.
The firing of lifeguards in the past few weeks is a retrograde step from this concept of safety on the beaches. And given the probable obstinacy and mulishness we may expect from the NCC board at this time, one important and urgent step would be for the multiplicity of sports and social clubs to employ varied methods of increasing the number of Barbadians who can actually swim –– and save lives, to boot.
For, in a nation completely surrounded by water, it is nothing short of astounding how small a percentage of our people can actually swim.
This shortcoming could very well have a lot to do with the message of fear of the sea that is contained in the traditional Barbadian observation that the “sea does not have any back door”.
Repeated and passed on over the centuries, the implied danger associated with the sea would have become deeply embedded in the national psyche.
It has been established by social scientists that the fear of drowning is a learned attitude and behaviour, and that it is therefore much easier
to teach very young children to swim before they have been conditioned to fear drowning.
What therefore is desirable would be for the Barbadian entities to which we have already referred to mount a national campaign to teach as many young children as possible to swim as soon as possible, thereby at an early stage helping to break this cycle of fear of the sea.
We are well aware that over the last several years some progress has been made on this score through programmes by some of these very clubs, and some schools too, and individual families.
This is to be commended and encouraged.
However, this thrust clearly needs to be accelerated and expanded, as statistics show that the majority of our population still do not know how to swim. For some of them, the sea is for merely bathing at the shoreline, or for just rinsing toes.
Many, many years ago, relatively large numbers of people were taught how to swim in classes conducted in the sea at the then Harbour Police Station and in water elsewhere.
There is no reason why a similar approach could not be examined for implementation under the right conditions –– and by the very same NCC, if the commission could live down its current shame.
This mass-based approach to teaching people to swim for their own safety, and that of others, should be mounted with the same frequency, spread and public educational appeal as that which currently as goes for healthy lifestyle living, physical exercising and condom use.
The need for Barbadians to feel comfortable and confident using the sea, and to be able to safely do so with competence and skill, is no less important than the national benefits to be derived from a general healthy lifestyle.
Come to think of it, it could help in the fight against our national burgeoning obesity. And we wager it would be much safer than jogging and walking early mornings on those traffic-laden narrow streets!