One of the new boats, named Sonja, was handed over to the NSRI to be based at Yzerfontein. From left to right, the head of department local government in the Western Cape Graham Paulse, Sonja Chinnian, Jacqui Pandaram, Colin Deiner and Ferdie Julies (all from the provincial disaster management centre). Picture: Supplied/James-Brent Styan

Cape Town - In the first of its kind in the country, the Western Cape government commissioned the South African Medical Research Council to develop a drowning prevention and water safety framework. 

The Western Cape experiences an average of 200 drownings per year, with children under the age of five most at risk. 

The framework is a collaborative project including input from many water safety stakeholders in the Western Cape and was launched in Yzerfontein along the West Coast.

Western Cape Local government, environmental affairs and development planning MEC Anton Bredell said around R242 000 was provided for the development of the Western Cape Strategic Framework for Drowning Prevention and Water Safety.

"This framework determines and assesses high risk areas and seeks to develop mitigation strategies to decrease the drowning in targeted population groups and areas," Bredell said. 

Professor Ashley van Niekerk, who led the collaborative team on the development of the framework, said the major focus of the initiative was to identify priority drowning risks, high-risk activities, equipment and the communities most affected.

"The Framework then highlights prevention efforts that are currently being implemented and others that may be considered appropriate for the prevention of drowning in the province."

Dr Colleen Saunders, who co-ordinated the Water Safety Task Team that provided input to the Western Cape Strategic Framework for Drowning Prevention and Water Safety, said the key to the success of the project was its collaborative nature. 

"Many stakeholders including Lifesaving South Africa, the National Sea Rescue Institute, Western Cape Government, and the academic community, were key contributors to this project." 

In addition to launching the framework, the department handed over cheques to Lifesaving Western Cape and the National Sea Rescue Institute.

"For years now the Department of Local Government through its Provincial Disaster Management Centre (PDMC), has financially supported these entities that are so critical to water safety in our province and to help to ensure that this province can respond proactively to water related incidents in the Western Cape," Bredell said. 

"Both Lifesaving WC and the NSRI are non-profit organisations and these organisations depend and operate purely on donations and sponsorships. They are a vital stakeholder for our province," he said.

Bredell's department allocated R414 000 to each of the organisations. 

“An additional amount of R585 000 was provided as a once off to the NSRI in 2016/17 for the procurement of three new vessels based at Yzerfontein, Wilderness and Langebaan. This represents the ongoing support of entities that are protecting the public in our waters,” he said.

The first of these vessels, named Sonja, was launched in Yzerfontein over the weekend.

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Cape Argus