PUTRAJAYA: At least one person dies every day from drowning in Malaysia but many are still not aware of the dangers involved when doing water activities. They also do not know how to keep safe at water recreational spots.
And these are worrying authorities, as the number tends to rise during school and public holidays, weekends and erratic weather conditions, like presently.
“This grim figure is cause for concern because drowning can be prevented, especially at rivers and beaches, if the people are fully aware of the risks involved when at such areas, more so during the monsoon season,” said assistant commissioner Nik Zulkifli Ibrahim, who heads the Public Awareness Programme branch at the Fire and Rescue Department.
As many as 300 people died in 194 drowning incidents nationwide from January to August, mostly at rivers and beaches, he said.
Selangor recorded the most number in the first eight months of the year with 44 drowning deaths, followed by Sarawak (34) and Perak (22).
The department’s statistics showed that on average, up to 400 deaths, involving water accidents, were recorded yearly. This is more than the annual average deaths involving fire – 150 a year.
As at October, 225 drowning cases have been reported, compared to 327 for the whole of last year. In 2016, there were 260 cases.
However, this could be the tip of the iceberg as it does not include cases at man-made or indoor places such as swimming pools and water theme parks.
“Some of the main causes of drowning are neglecting safety precautions when doing water activities and people’s lack of swimming skills or even awareness of their own ability in the water,” Nik Zulkifli told Sunday Star. “The common mistake is trying to save a drowning victim without swimming and rescuing skills.”
Many are also not aware of the condition of water in that area or the risks there.
“Based on statistics, many drowning victims were unfamiliar with the water conditions and did not take heed of the weather forecast.
“Sometimes, we can be caught unaware by headwaters or riptide, but if you do your research before going, you will know that the area is prone to that or it is a common phenomenon there,” Nik Zulkifli said.
This was especially so during the monsoon seasons, he said, warning parents to keep an eye on their children and prevent them from playing near mining pools or storm drains.
To control access to dangerous water bodies, the department has identified 12 hotspots nationwide as “high risk” areas – rivers, waterfalls, dams, lakes and beaches with high numbers of drowning incidents involving more than five victims.
Around 34 “risk” areas nationwide – those with drowning incidents involving less than five victims – have also been identified.
The department, which is a member of the National Water Safety Council, is working with local councils to place warnings and safety signs that meet international standards at danger hotspots.
“This is so that even foreign tourists can understand them. But, of course, a big problem in Malaysia is getting our own people to read and comply to the signage, so we are conducting public awareness programmes, including at schools,” said Nik Zulkifli.
On Thursday, department director-general Datuk Muhammad Hamdan Wahid warned people not to ignore the warning flags and signs at the beaches and rivers.
“People are especially advised to avoid any activities at or near high-risk recreational areas like waterfalls, mountains and beaches. Most importantly, watch your children,” he said.
Muhammad Hamdan said more than 10,000 personnel had been placed on standby for the floods.