Statistics tell the story of Latvia’s seasonal sorrows. Every year between 100 and 200 people drown here, every third one of them an able-bodied adult, the great majority of them men.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Latvia is among the leading lands in the European Union where more people suffer lethal accidents in and around bodies of water. WHO data reveal that Latvia lost 9.91 people per 100,000 inhabitants to drowning in 2010, 6 per 100,000 in 2011. The average in the EU as a whole was 1.25 per 100,000 population last year.
The state Center for Disease Prevention and Control’s (SPKC) Statistical Yearbook of Health Care lists data up to 2012 that show the hotter summer years 2007 and 2010 as having been particularly deadly for swimmers, recording 237 and 241 deaths by drowning, respectively.
As VUGD spokeswoman Viktorija Gribuste told Latvian Public Television’s morning news program Panorama, “unfortunately, the statistics are not improving.”
“The reasons, really, are just plain recklessness and the mistaken idea that ‘this can’t happen to me’,” said Gribuste.
“People are so pleased with the hot weather they don’t consider the consequences. First of all, it’s going swimming while inebriated. A drunk person cannot unfortunately assess his or her own abilities. Secondly, this hot weather has not warmed up the bodies of water that people go plunging into, so even if the surface levels are warm, deeper waters are quite cold. So an overheated person jumping into the water can experience heart troubles or get muscle cramps, and these sadly are some of the reasons so many of us drown,” she warned the public.
Unsupervised children up to the age of 14 who are allowed to wander near ponds, lakes and rivers are another typical risk group for drowning in Latvia. Last year four kids drowned and the year before that, seven.
Adults from age 15 to 59 are the largest group to submerge to their deaths, a third of them alcohol-related. For both 2012 and 2013, the SPKC recorded a hundred such accidents each year.
The elderly are also prone to drowning accidents, totaling around 50 deaths per year.
The State Emergency Medical Service (NMPD) reminds the public that the recommended opening of the swimming season is when water temperatures reach at least +18⁰ degrees Celsium. Medics urge people to choose safe, properly prepared swimming spots. If such aren’t available, one should remember that safe swimming requires a flat and shallow shore, preferably with a solid foundation. Swimming spots in rivers should be chosen where the currents are minimal, there are no whirlpools, underwater rocks or other dangerous objects.
The NMPD also urges swimmers to tell those on shore how long they plan to swim and whether they will be diving under the water. People need to watch out for each other so that they can assist quickly in case of an accident, say the medics.