"Over the past three years, more than 60% of those who drowned each year were under the influence of alcohol, slightly more than half (51%) of them were aged between 35 and 49, and most fatal accidents occurred during the most active swimming season - from June to August," said the Disease Prevention and Control Center (SPKC), which is continuing to ask for a more responsible attitude from the public.
According to the SPKC 129 people drowned in Latvia in 2020. 94 cases or 73% of all drownings were men.
As part of its latest campaign, the SPKC has the powerful testimony of Mārtiņš Karnītis, who has been in a wheelchair for 19 years, after suffering a neck vertebrae fracture and spinal cord damage while relaxing by the water under the influence of alcohol.
❗️ Pēdējos gados vairāk nekā 60% noslīkušo bijuši alkohola reibumā. pic.twitter.com/SYO6hE5Syz— SPKC.gov.lv (@SPKCentrs) July 12, 2022
"We were relaxing with friends, alcohol was consumed. My friends came up with an idea - jumping from the car into the pond. I successfully jumped into the pond head-first a couple of times, but then something messed up and my foot slipped. I hit the shore, I felt that I could no longer move my arms or legs," he says in a video interview (above).
Karnītis spent four months in hospital and in rehabilitation, but then he had to learn to live again - to breathe, sit, eat, and adjust his place of residence.
"The most stupid thing is that such injuries are easy to avoid, because they are only related to one's reckless behavior, and not to any surrounding factors. Alcohol is definitely not compatible with active recreation," said Karnītis, who is urging others to bear his experience in mind.
The Water Safety and Civil Protection Department of the Riga Municipal Police is also backing the campaign, reminidng the public that even a small amount of alcohol can affect a person's behavior.
"Working as a rescuer, you can see nerve-wracking moments every day, when a person is only half a step away from an accident. It feels terrible when an intoxicated person does not listen to the advice of rescuers, acts recklessly, and it end in a fatal outcome. Unfortunately, rescuers are not always and not able to help everyone, so explanation and prevention are an integral part of public education measures. You have to be responsible for yourself and your fellow human beings," emphasizes Jānis Skrims, Acting Chief Specialist of the Water Safety and Civil Protection Department of the Riga Municipal Police
As repeatedly reported by LSM over the years, Latvia has a serious problem with a huge number of drownings and other water tragedies every year. Latvia consistently tops European league tables for drownings per capita with dozens of deaths both in summer and in winter when reckless fishermen regularly fall through the ice.
Every weekend in summer it is common to see large 'party rafts' floating along the River Gauja bearing large numbers of people and copious quantities of alcohol. Repeated public information campaigns seem to have had little impact on the figures, or on public behavior on and in bodies of water.
The State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) says that so far it has pulled 52 dead bodies from the water in 2022, 23 of them since the start of the summer swimming season on May 15. However, this figure does not include other drownings when bodies were recovered without the help of the VUGD.