Most civic agencies across the world prepare a contingency plan to deal with the expected rush of citizens to holiday sites. Unfortunately, such a plan has either never been drafted or remains on paper in Karachi.
For the hundreds of thousands of people who thronged the Clifton beach during Eid holidays, there was no sign of any such arrangements.
Families of the drowned victims told The Express Tribune that there were no lifeguards present at Sea View. Officials, on the other hand, maintain that a handful of their men were deployed at the beach.
Saeed Rehman, who had accompanied his two cousins to the beach on Tuesday, said that no rescue personnel were present to save the drowning victims or tell the crowd to move away from the rough seas. “There was no one to help me when my cousins drowned. Rescue came five hours after I informed the police.”
A relative of deceased Shafiullah lambasted the authorities for not taking adequate measures to protect the lives of citizens. “When the officials and the government know that large crowds throng the beach on Eid, why did not they take any steps to provide help to the people?”
According to officials, around 0.5 million people visited the Clifton beach during the Eid holidays this year. The beach area in front of Dolmen Mall, where the majority of the drowning incidents took place, falls in the jurisdiction of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). An official of the KMC claimed they had deployed 10 lifeguards in that area.
“Our focus on Eid is the Hawkesbay and others beaches in that belt. Never before have drowning incidents taken place at Sea View, nor have so many people turned up which is why we had less men deployed for it,” said municipal services senior director Masood Alam. The strip of beach falling under his jurisdiction is approximately 2kms. Alam promises to deploy more lifeguards at the strip in the future.
Meanwhile, around 3.5km to 4 km of the strip beach falls under the jurisdiction of the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC), stretching from the roundabout near McDonalds to the Village Restaurant. Around eight to 12 lifeguards are usually posted at this strip, said the cantonment executive officer of the CBC, Adil Rafi Siddiqui.
According to him, the authorities are in the process of forming a beach monitoring mechanism where special measures such as security cameras and guards would be deployed at the beach. “There are a number of factors such as high tides and rough sea along with a huge crowds and uncontrolled people that contributed to the tragedy,” he defended.
Syed Muhammad Ahsaan, the administrator of Aman Foundation’s Pakistan Aquatic Life Saving (PALS) was of the belief that if lifeguards were present, the death toll would definitely have been lower. “Lifeguards are very effective in saving lives. We have rescued over 4,000 persons in 10 years,” he said. Their lifeguards are deployed at Hawkesbay, Sandspit and other beaches along the belt. And just like the others, he was surprised about the drowning incidents at Sea View but says that in the monsoon season, the sea gets very rough.
Families still throng beach
Despite the ban on swimming at Sea View, families thronged the beach on Saturday. Behind the Dolmen Mall, people came in hi-ace vans and buses only to be stopped by policemen from venturing into the water.
“We knew that the beach was out of bounds but we came to enjoy the beautiful weather,” said Muhammad Khalid, who had come from Landhi with his wife and children.
Police mobiles and ambulances stretched across the Sea View beach as officers in singles and doubles stood with batons at the ready to prevent people from going in the water.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2014.