Drowning due to a pump failure – Really?

Unfortunately, it does. A water pump failure in a Rayleigh, NC community swimming pool caused the drowning death of a teenager.  The pool water was electrified after a water pump failed and a corroded conductor carried electricity to the pool water instead of taking it to a circuit breaker. Sounds simple, but sadly a teenager paid the price.

This loss of a young life could have been prevented, only if there were stronger regulations around electrical maintenance and inspection. Should there have been an inspection, the corroded conductor would have been spotted before the tragic incident and not after the county sheriff’s office requested an investigation. 17-year-old Rachel Rosoff would still be alive and her family and friends would not be mourning her death now.

The swimming pool, where the tragic incident happened, was built in 1979 and passed the electric inspection then with no requirement for future electrical inspection. Wake County, where this pool is, does not require regular electric inspection unless a permit for major renovation is requested. This pool has been operating since 1979 (37 years) without an electric inspection after the initial one – something to seriously think about. Request for a permit or not, electric inspections should be mandated for the swimming pools, just like safety and emission inspections for the cars.

This incident should serve notice to: the legislators to enact stringent regulations; the swimming pool owners should voluntarily conform to the latest electric codes; swimming pool users should check with the pool owner or management about the currency of the electric maintenance and inspection of the pool.

Drowning due to electrocution is completely preventable. The number of drowning deaths due to electrocution in the swimming pools may be small, but that is still too many.

The report from the Wake County Inspection Administrator can be found here.

– Meghna Sil


Opportunity to Promote Swimming among African-American Children

Just concluded 2016 Olympics at Rio had many memorable moments that included the retirement of the most decorated Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, and the emergence of Katie Ledecky – call it passing of baton if you may.

Not taking anything away from other swimmers, two of the most significant performances, in my opinion, in the pools of Rio were by Simone Manual and Ashleigh Johnson. They both cemented their place in history – as the first African-American to win an individual Olympic gold and the first African American to be in the US women’s Olympic water-polo team.

The contributions of Simone and Ashleigh are much more than just bringing home gold medals. They became role models to millions of children overnight. As evident from various media coverage and social media trends, their successes have reinvigorated the discussion on why the African-Americans are behind in swimming and reinforced the fact (and busted a myth) – yes, the African Americans can swim!

Simone’s gold medal winning performance in the 100-meter freestyle was very symbolic – initially she fell behind, but she kept at it and surged ahead during the last quarter of the race. What a finish! On the other hand, Ashleigh, the primary pillar of the team whose other members were all white, held her own as the goalie and kept the opponents at bay. The color of the skin did not matter!

As the statistics published by the CDC indicates, African-Americans children, age 5-19 years, are almost 6 times more vulnerable to drowning than their white counter part. What can the parents and communities do to help save those lives?

It is an opportunity for the black parents to tell their children stories of Simone and Ashleigh. If one family in Sugar Land can raise a Simone and a single mother in Miami can raise an Ashleigh, many more Simones and Ashleighs can be raised. They do not have to win medals, as long as they learn to swim and enjoy it.

Years of segregation, discrimination and economic disparity kept many African-Americans away from learning swimming and left them fearful of drowning. But, there is no reason to continue to pass the fear of drowning down the generations.

If we believe our society is desegregated, we should formulate policies and legislations to make swimming affordable for all through public-private partnerships and by making swimming lessons mandatory in our schools.

– Meghna Sil

Unsafe Water – Rio Olympics

Today many of the news media is buzzing with ‘Don’t put your head under water’ while in Rio.

The Olympics is less than a week away and the waters of Rio are infested with human sewage, bacteria and viruses. Correct, I am talking about the water venues where open water competitions are to take place and putting around 1,400 athletes at health risk.

I have been keeping a close eye since the Associated Press (AP) published its first report in June 2015 on water quality of the open water venues for the Olympics. The findings were quite disconcerting – the analysis of the water samples indicates high contamination with bacteria, viruses and sewage. I know for sure, this amount of contamination in the US water bodies would have been deemed unfit for any kind of water sport, let alone Olympics. Initially it was thought the hazards were closer to the shore, but by Dec. 2015 it was confirmed that the hazards were off the shores too. Some even feel water concerns in Rio is overblown, and I truly hope that is the case.

The latest AP report that just came out is equally concerning, nothing much has changed in past year since the last report. None of the ‘promises’ made by the authorities to improve the water quality were kept. Of course, the athletes have taken all possible precautions, including antibiotics and anti-viral medicines. Is it fair to make the athletes compete in unsafe waters when they have worked hard and built their dreams around representing their countries in Olympics?

I am passionate about making water sport safe. I am not talking about only safety against drowning, but also safety from health hazards. Growing up in the US, we take the water quality for granted. All open water bodies I have been to have safety hazards clearly posted.

Considering the IOC awarded 2016 Olympics Rio in Oct. 2009, the Olympics authorities and Brazilian government had enough time to address the water quality issue. I strongly urge the IOC to use this as a learning opportunity and put some checks and balances in place for countries prior to awarding Olympic Games in future. We want our athletes to showcase their talents in hygienic environments.

My best wishes to the athletes competing to their full potential and come out of the water unscathed and their dreams fulfilled.

– Meghna Sil

World Water Day – March 22

Fire, Air and Water – 3 essential elements that sustain life on earth.

We, in the most part of the US, take water for granted.  We open the faucet – we get the clean water; we go to the pool – we get to swim in safe water; we go to the grocery store – we get to bring home fish and fresh produce; and so and so forth. How many times do we think about all ‘behind the scene’ individuals who make this happen? According to an UNESCO report, an estimated 3/4 th of the jobs worldwide are either heavily or moderately dependent on water.  Half of the world’s workers, 1.5 billion people, are employed in eight water and natural-resource dependent industries.  These workers range from a utility worker in New York city to a mother bringing carrying water for her family in a remote village in Africa.  For those who are not working in water-related sector, they still would need water for coffee to keep going and water for air-conditioner to stay cool.  You get my point.

Water not only sustains life, but also drives economy and shapes society.

World Water Day is one of UN-Water’s campaigns that aims to inform, engage and inspire action, and it dates back to March 22, 1993 when first World Water Day was celebrated.  UN-Water sets a theme for each year based on current or future challenges. This year’s (2016) theme is Better Water, Better Jobs: World Water Day 2016.

It is very easy to recognize the power of water and water-related sector jobs in transforming people’s life and impacting society and economy.  Yet, millions of those workers are unrecognized and unprotected.  Subtle changes in quantity and quality of water can change these workers’ lives and livelihoods.  Let’s all join hands to recognize all those workers and spread awareness on the importance of clean water and a safe environment.

Happy World Water Day 2016!

world water day 2016

-Meghna Sil

Swim Lessons in Minnesota Public School Curriculum – an update

I was very excited about a new bill that was passed last year by the Minnesota State Legislation to conduct a feasibility study in order to make swimming instructions available in public school for children at an early age. Please refer to an earlier article – Yes, Add Swim Lessons to Public Elementary School Curriculum. As required by the legislation, the state education commissioner published a report in early February, 2016.

mn state

My earlier excitement was quickly dampened after reading the report. The report essentially brought forth various costs that would be incurred for adding swimming lesson in the school curriculum. In my humble opinion, focus should have been more on determining various avenues to cover these costs, rather cost avoidance.

The study workgroup included a wide range of representatives – Minnesota Department of Health and Education, teachers and school administrators, non-profit fitness and recreational organizations, public parks and recreation departments and other stakeholders with interest in swimming. Sadly, missing from this group were corporate leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

As reported, for the state to mandate swimming instructions, it would require state-adopted learning outcomes that do not exist today for physical education, and swimming in particular. This would require for the state to establish and monitor the policies. Additionally, the state would need to set guidelines for schools and professional development plans both for schools and teachers.

As far as estimation of the cost is concerned, the report indicates over 200 school districts do not have access to any school-operated pool in the district. Setting up one pool per district would cost around $550M to construct plus on-going recurring costs. Even though the report made reference to collaborative effort with some non-profit organization (e.g., local YMCAs, YWCAs, local clubs, etc.), there was no suggestion of looking into corporate sponsorships.

The report indicates the need for personnel development in the areas of lifeguard and swimming instructions training and certifications, expertise in emergency procedures, CPR, ED, etc., and employment of maintenance staff. Do I hear an Employment Opportunity here?

The report, in conclusion, recommends:

  • Incentivize school and community partnership – no specifics here?
  • Include instructions on drowning prevention via land-based instruction – learning swimming without getting into water?
  • Include outreach program to reach high-risk population – what about affordability and availability of pools and swim lessons?

I personally feel – the state legislators need to start engaging the entrepreneurs, innovators and corporate leaders; look into the various options of covering the cost, instead of avoiding the cost; consider other secondary benefits of incorporating swim lessons in the public school curriculum, e.g., employment, healthy students, etc.

As always, I am waiting to hear your opinions on this subject.

-Meghna Sil

Yes, Add Swim Lessons to the Public Elementary School Curriculum

Historically, many US colleges and universities mandated swimming tests for graduation.  While many of those colleges have dropped this traditional requirement, a handful of them are steadfast in maintaining this requirement.  It is debatable whether a swimming test (yes, test) should be or should not be a graduation requirement, and cases can be made for either one.  Nevertheless, swimming should be viewed as a life skill, like walking, running, reading or the ability to do simple arithmetic.

Why wait till one goes to college?  An earlier encouragement (and enforcement to some extent) to swim at the elementary school level can help change the drowning statistics and promote healthy lifestyle among youngsters.

In June of 2015, the Minneapolis State Legislation passed a bill to look into and develop swimming resources to provide mandatory swimming lessons for all state public schools.  The report from the state education commissioner is due in February 2016.  I am eagerly waiting for a report and I hope to give you the good news.   If Minneapolis is able to implement the bill, it will be the first state and become a trailblazer for other states to follow. It’s only apt that ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’ state is taking the lead.

There have been some attempts by public school districts in the country to mandate swimming lessons as part of the school curriculum.   One such example is the Wenchatee School Board (in Washington State); this group adopted a program two years ago that mandates swim assessment test for every incoming high school freshman.  I am surprised that many similar efforts are not underway. At this point of time, it appears that the states have abdicated the responsibility to the parents. This certainly poses a problem as many parents don’t have access to proper swimming facilities, and many of those who have, cannot afford swim lessons for their kids.

Swim lessons in the public schools as part of their curriculum will encourage and motivate families to consider swimming seriously, particularly, the ones who cannot afford it otherwise.

I do understand that today most of the public school systems have budget constraints and are expected to do more with less.  Building and sustaining swimming facilities by the public schools can be expensive, but that alone should not prevent us from being creative.

Explore the possibility of establishing public-private ventures to bring swim lessons to the public schools.

I urge my readers to ask their local legislators and school administrators to creatively form public-private partnership with business leaders from private sectors, and share the responsibility.  After all, shouldn’t teaching life skills to the next generation be one of our top priorities?

– Meghna Sil

Teaching Swimming to 40M Children under a Single Program

I am excited to debut my column by sharing what is happening in the world of swimming safety. I recently read an article on Yahoo (Dec. 24, 2015 edition) – Bangladeshis take plunge in world’s biggest swim lesson.

Even though I have never been to Bangladesh, I have vibrant images, some of which you may say imaginary, of the lay of the land based on what I have heard from my grandpa from his childhood memories. The country is crisscrossed by many rivers and dotted with lakes, ponds and wetlands.   Many of my grandpa’s fond memories are linked to swimming, taking boat rides across major rivers, and, of course, the massive monsoon downpours.  He would recount in vivid detail how he overcame fear of water by learning to swim in the ponds and eventually graduating to competitive swimming in the lakes. [My grandpa spent his early years in Dhaka, Bangladesh and was an avid swimmer].

With so many water bodies around, one would expect swimming to be part of Bangladeshis’ DNA and drowning a remote national concern. Unfortunately, not so.

According to the recent statistics, around 18,000 children drown each year in Bangladesh, making it the leading cause of death for children 17 years and under.  I would not be surprised if the the real number is lot higher. Why does drowning sound like an epidemic? Could it be because a large portion of the population lives either by the sea or major rivers? One of the main modes of transportation is by water, so ferry disasters are very common, as ferries are generally overcrowded and ill equipped with safety gears. Due to living in urbanized settings, people in general lack the knowledge of responding to water calamities. With an upsurge in urbanization and economic constraints, an increasing number of children are not exposed to water due to affordability of swim lesson or safe swimming pools.

The massive and unprecedented swim initiative undertaken by the Bangladeshi government, with support from UNICEF, mandates every school to provide swim lesson to the children between the ages of 5 through 17; this adds up to a staggering 40 Million children, the biggest swim program ever. Initially, until enough pools are built, the schools will be using local ponds and inflatable swimming pools that will be provided by UNICEF.

It’s just the beginning, but I am extremely optimistic and wish this program a huge success. Additionally, I look forward to bringing success stories on this program in the coming days. I am hoping the kids will learn not only to enjoy swimming, but also pick up life-saving skills and practices, and promoting them. What undertaking can be more important than saving lives?

– Meghna Sil