As we mourn drowning deaths of two Sujans, let’s get proactive to increase awareness in the community

By Dr Anupam Pokharel, Melbourne
27 December 2016

The death of two young Nepali students in New South Wales in as many days since Christmas Day has badly hurt the close-knit Nepali community of Australia. With the tragic drowning deaths of the two men (the first name of both victims was “Sujan”), the total number of drowning deaths in NSW this Christmas season reached six, media reports indicated.

The real tragedy is, these deaths would most probably have been avoidable with little precaution.

The Nepali diaspora in Australia also grieved the loss of three young men towards the end of 2015 and early 2016; the last victim was sucked in by a powerful rip as he stood on the shore. This rip-incident was different than the rest that mostly occurred as the men voluntarily entered the waters to have a swim.

Lack of swimming experience, and underestimation of hazards, along with suddenly changing ocean conditions have been blamed by the experts for such drownings.

Devastatingly sad: Two women react to the drowning death of 27 year old Sujan Sharma I Screengrab: 9News

These deaths of our fellow community members also show a seasonal pattern. They appear to occur as weather warms up in Summer and water activities increase.

Following the three drowning-related deaths a year ago, our society would have been quite cautious about similar possible water-related accidents. It is understandable to be reactive and act cautiously following such accidents. While this may discourage many within the community to take unnecessary risks and then that approach would have avoided similar tragic incidents, the time has come for us to act proactively.

My point here is that, had we been more proactive and more aggressive in raising people’s awareness on water safety, would the above deaths have been avoided? Or, if we are to be regularly proactive to raise awareness on water safety and the risks (specially because most Nepali community members are notoriously unskilled swimmers), will we be able to prevent future water-related deaths?

As individuals and community organisations, let’s join hands to continue to raise awareness. Let us work together to avoid what is avoidable.

As the Nepali community remains in a reactive mode in the wake of the two Christmas deaths, we are more cautious but our risk perception gradually fades away as time passes. If we are to ensure the next victim is not ourselves or one of our dear ones, it is important to reignite the risk perception in relation to waterborne risks on a round-the-year basis.

May 15 is the International Water Safety Day, which would fit well for the Northern Hemisphere. Various centres in Victoria marked Water Safety Week 2016 rom 28 November to 4 December 2016, taking into account the increasing water activities in the summer time.

While deaths in waters occurs all year round, at least we have seen a seasonal pattern within the Nepali community. Looking at the deaths so far, that ‘pattern’ shows December and January are the fatal months. Due to this seasonal pattern, let’s observe the Water Safety Week with December 1 as the reference day.  Let us also increase awareness on other deaths that have been associated with summer, which are drowning of children in the backyard swimming pool and, heat-related deaths of children when left unattended inside a vehicle. It is also important to know that drowning does not only occur in the oceans, it occurs in rivers, creeks and private properties as well.

The had published an article by Dr Nirpal Bahadur Rawal in June 2016 on this pressing issue. One after another sad incidents leading to these totally avoidable deaths have made the community more alert about the importance of sharing such information time and again and get proactive. A recent article on SBS Nepali website contains some important tips to remain safe on the water.

You can visit following websites to improve you knowledge and awareness of water safety:

Writer is the president of Nepalese Association of Victoria (NAV).

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