Worries over high drowning toll

More than 150 people have drowned in swimming accidents across Greece so far this summer and the number is expected to double by year-end. Experts cite two main reasons for the high number, the lack of awareness of risks among the population – due to improper training – and the lack of lifeguards on most beaches. The toll has been 157 since June 1 – of whom 101 men, 54 women and two children. Twenty-two were foreign citizens. «More than half of Greeks do not know how to swim. Elsewhere in Europe, children learn to swim in pools from a very young age but in Greece it’s something one learns alone,» said Nikos Giovanidis, president of the Sea Life Saving Academy. «Other countries have a policy on the issue. In Spain, for instance, the number of drownings decreased spectacularly within a few years because they adopted a comprehensive approach,» said pediatrician Agis Terzidis of Athens University. Particular groups, such as children and the elderly, are more susceptible to drowning. Among children, the main cause seems to be lack of supervision and among adolescents the overconsumption of alcohol. «Most drownings I have seen were due to pathogenic causes, such as heart failure or high blood pressure, affecting older people. Such cases are usually fatal. Young people usually escape death but, in talking to them, I found that their swimming knowledge was not adequate,» said Dr Haralampos Gouvas. The law, which provides for the presence of at least one lifeguard on crowded beaches (with at least 500 swimmers) every 600 meters does not seem to be observed. Merchant Marine Ministry sources said that this is the responsibility of municipal authorities but that they often try to avoid the extra expenses involved in purchasing equipment and hiring lifeguards.