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Letter From America: Water Babies

"Humans, while capable of creating inspiring delectations, are also capable of making dangers through their thoughtlessness...'' Ronnie Bray tells of the terrible toll of children drowned in family swimming pools. In the US pool drowning is the fourth leading cause of accidental death.

Every year the warnings go out when Arizona’s warm winter and spring weather heats up, and families automatically fill their backyard swimming pools to cool off when the hundred-plus degree days come, as they always do, and make life indoors and outdoors physically overpowering without cooling, and television stations, radio stations, and newspapers habitually discharge a steady stream of warnings against letting young children have access to pools unless they have adult supervision.

Recent laws have been passed in the cities that surround the Phoenix area requiring newly installed swimming pools to be robustly fenced with lockable gates. Older homes with pools are required to retrofit safety fences and gates, but that leaves a lag time during which many pools are unsafe.

I know first-hand, almost at the cost of my life, the attraction and fascination that water holds for young children. It is also extremely dangerous. Its capriciousness can be relied on only to provide unpleasant surprises.

Some pools lie neglected year upon year without cleaning, filtering, or disinfecting. Untreated, these turn green with algae and other vegetable slime, providing perfect breeding centres for mosquitoes. This should ring a bell in the head of sensible being, because the potentially fatal West Nile Virus has been in the valley for several years.

Humans, while capable of creating inspiring delectations, are also capable of making dangers through their thoughtlessness. This insouciance leads to preventable tragedies being played out year on year in the Valley of the Sun.

So far this year in Phoenix alone, three tots have drowned in family swimming pools because children left their homes unnoticed and got into their garden pools. The annual toll of drowning deaths is staggering.

"I saw him only five minutes ago!" is of little help when a child is lying dead because of parental inattention. Neighbours sympathise with bereaved parents and tell the TV cameras what loving parents they were, and who can doubt it? But they are responsible for letting their little loved ones out of their sight.

Pool drowning in the United States of America is the fourth leading cause of accidental death, accounting for six deaths every day, many of which are in public pools with lifeguards on duty.

For children under the age of fifteen, drowning is the second leading cause, with one in five in pools with lifeguards present. Deaths to children four and under are four times as common as are deaths involving motor vehicles, and for every one that dies, four are hospitalised, many suffering permanent neurological disability.

A child can drown in less time than it takes to answer the telephone, so strict pool safety including locked gates that are too high for a youngsters to climb, and parental vigilance of the highest order are the only answers to this tragic loss of young life.

Of all deaths by drowning of pre-school children, seventy percent occur when one or both parents are at home. In Arizona, and in several other states, death by drowning surpasses all other causes of death for children under fifteen.

This grim reality is made shockingly real by television images of small blanketed victims being loaded silently into the back of an ambulance.

And while the season has hardly begun, it makes for heavy hearts to know that unless something extraordinary happens, more beautiful babies will fall prey to the misfortune of death by drowning.

It is a sobering thought as summer advances, that even as we bask in the shade and enjoy summer fruits, that in some houses not too far away, immeasurable grief will strike, curtains will be drawn, hearts will break, self-recrimination will congregate, and funeral services will be prepared for those who are yet alive, but who soon will be dead because common foresight was absent, and watchfulness took a short break.

Copyright © 2005 by Ronnie Bray

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