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November 14, 2019
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Saving lives from drowning at beaches

Saving people from any untoward incidents is an uphill task and a service which often goes unacknowledged. It requires a lot of hard work, compassion and also immense courage to save people from life-threatening situations, as often the lifesaver is putting his or her own life at risk trying to save someone else’s life. Generally,  doctors, nurses and paramedical staff are considered as serving humanity and working to save lives. This is, of course, true; however, there are other people too from various backgrounds, like firefighters who rescue us by putting their own lives into danger.

Among such people are also lifeguards who are deputed at beaches. The sad reality in Pakistan is that there is no concept of creating awareness among the masses of safe behaviour to be practised on beaches. And there are various kinds of beaches where people go for recreation, with many of these being quite dangerous.

The beaches at Karachi stretch a long distance from Sea View, Clifton, to Sandspit, Hawks Bay, Tushan Beach, French Beach, , KANUPP Point, Paradise Point, Sunehri, Cape Monze, and to Mubarak Village and beyond. The monsoon season begins from the mid of May and it continues till September every year, during which period practically all these beaches experience very rough tides and are dangerous for swimming.

There was a time when people used to die by drowning in large numbers at Karachi beaches. If we can recall these times, the death toll was between 250 to 300 people every year from drowning at beaches. One of the main reasons is the rip current, a very dangerous wave, which drags everything in its path back into the depths of the sea, making it almost impossible to save people being swept away by it.

The monsoon season is highly unpredictable. In addition, school summer vacations also fall during this critical period and tens of thousands of families visit the beaches. And inevitably, not heeding warnings, many people, including whole families become tragic victims of the dangerous tides.

The situation started dramatically changing in favour of beach visitors in 2004, when Pakistan Life Saving Foundation (PALS Rescue), a private non-profit organization began its full-fledged lifeguard operations at Karachi beaches. It’s the presence and effective work by its lifeguards brought the death toll down to nearly zero. PALS has a dedicated team of over 250 lifeguards which warn the visitors not to go into the danger zone in water. But if in spite of such warnings, beachgoers enter the sea and are obviously drowning, the lifeguards immediately come into action to rescue them and bring them safely back to the shore. These lifeguards are highly trained and internationally certified.

In the monsoon season, the demand of deploying lifeguards doubles. As technology advancement develops at an unprecedented pace, PALS Rescue needs to add latest, high-tech rescue devices to its array of lifesaving equipment, in order to cope with the ever-growing number of beach visitors and a finite number of lifeguards. There is, for example, an advanced life-saving device, known as U-Safe, manufactured in Portugal, which is a self-propelledremote-controlled device, that works in any position under the most adverse conditions. It also has its own navigation and guidance system. It is very simple to use, moving rapidly through even choppy water to reach and save a drowning person in a secure manner. But for PALS to acquire such new equipment and also increase its team of lifeguards, it needs funding support from all of us – the government, the corporate sector and the general public; after all PALS is a non-profit organization offering a great humanitarian service and the least we can do to recognize and appreciate its great work is to support it financially to ensure its sustainability. Remember, there is no other lifeguard service on our beaches, and if PALS was to cease to exist, then without question we will go back to the old days of several dozen if not hundreds of deaths by drowning at our beaches every summer. It’s as simple as that.

PALS Rescue has so far saved the lives of more than 5,000 people and conducted 7 million preventive actions to date. According to an estimate, it also provides safety to about 8 million beach visitors every year.