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Safety on our beaches

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11.JAN.11

The Boxing Day drowning of a youth at the popular Brighton Salt Pond beach is one in an unpleasantly long list of such casualties over the years. There is hardly a year when no such misfortune has occurred at one of our beaches, the ones on the east coast, with its exposure to Atlantic tides, in particular. It is not a situation about which we can afford to be complacent.{{more}}

Typically, our reaction tends to be to try and apportion blame for each accident, ranging from blaming parents (in the case of the young), friends, the victim, the government and even the beach itself. Is it not time for us to move beyond this approach? Can we use the latest casualty to make an appraisal of our policy and actions as regards beach safety and even coastal environmental issues in the wider context?

Over the years, growing consciousness about safety and environmental factors has led to the establishment of some state institutions or mechanisms relating to the management of such vital recreational facilities as parks and beaches. This has resulted in some improvements in facilities at beaches, to the benefit of both locals and tourists alike. The wind-swept, exposed Rawacou beach is perhaps the best example of progress in this. Welcome as this undoubtedly is, it does not negate the fact that we have a long way to go, especially where safety at the beach is concerned.

There has been a significant improvement in public education information about safety issues for beach-goers. A lot more needs to be done both in regard to intensity and presentation. After all, it is lives, those of children in particular, to judge by statistics, which are at stake. But is it not time for a comprehensive national conversation and resultant policy formulation on such matters? As the late calypso bard Duke asked in song, “How many more must die”?

The natural reaction to drownings on the beach is a call for lifeguards to be employed. Few could disagree with this, but there are cost implications. Are we, local people who use the beaches, prepared to contribute to the cost of not only hiring lifeguards and paying for their continued employment, but also to the cost of their maintenance, preservation and improvement? Or do we think that such financial contributions should come only from tourists who utilize these facilities?

In the case of several beaches, upkeep, maintenance and improvement are left entirely up to voluntary efforts. Access roads are a haphazard project. To even think aloud of such necessary policies as a beach toll fee is virtually to court political suicide. So, how are we to preserve our beaches, to protect users, our children especially, and to make them both a treasured local recreational resource, as well as a valuable tourism product?

Each life lost represents an important national resource no longer available for development purposes. Where we can, we must. Let us use the latest casualty to spur us in that direction.

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