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Dangerous waters

September 12, 2017

IT is a tragedy that has sadly become so ubiquitous that at least in the public consciousness, it barely registers anymore, the numbers simply adding up on the grim stats sheet. The past one month has been particularly bad, with upwards of 30 people drowning in the stormy waters off Karachi’s beaches. The latest incident occurred on Saturday evening on Sandspit beach, when a total of 12 people died after going into the deep while attempting to save a child who had been sucked into a whirlpool. According to the police, the picnickers had repeatedly been asked by police and lifeguards to not swim so far. And the city mayor, Waseem Akhtar, said that at least 30 lifeguards jumped in to go to the swimmers’ rescue, but were unsuccessful in their attempts. He added that Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, under which swimming in the sea in this rough monsoon season is banned, was already in place but the administration faced difficulties in implementing it.

The situation is indicative of how law enforcers and even rescue workers often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place where issues of public safety are concerned. It is their job to make sure that citizens don’t put themselves or others in danger. But when they resort to the high-handed measures that often become necessary given the people’s propensity to indulge in risky pursuits, the guardians expose themselves to criticism and admonishment. Recent experience has shown that, realistically, the only way to prevent people from entering the water during the dangerous season is to prevent large numbers from getting to the beaches in the first place. When this has been done, however, there has been justified resentment, for healthy recreational opportunities are also a right. The only answer lies in a cross-media, mass-scale public awareness campaign so that the hive mind is flooded with the knowledge of just how dangerous the sea can be. Citizens must be educated on how to protect themselves too.

Published in Dawn, September 12th, 2017