Whilst I was last in Sudan, I saw a number of swimming pools, of varying quality. At one end of the spectrum was the Family Pool, a 25m pool in a tin shack in the middle of a building site. It was half full of water leaving it with a freeboard higher than the water was deep, even at the deep end. The only way to get out of the water was up pool steps that were buckled and bent and looked like the metal might break if you put your weight on them.
At the other end of the spectrum was the Royal Pond swimming pool. It is easily one of the best swimming pools I have seen in Africa. It is 50m long, 25m wide, has 8 lanes with extra space for two splash lanes down the sides of the pool and has plenty of tiered seating for spectators.
Whilst I was there, I had a look at the rescue equipment that is provided for the lifeguards that work there. It consisted of a single heavy, hard lifesaving ring. That was it.
In the pool managers office, I found an impressive chest, labelled “First Aid Kit: Occupational” in two languages, Arabic and English. I opened it for find a two cold packs, a pair of scissors, a piece of gauze out of its packet and some dirty cotton wool.
Safety at Sudanese swimming pools is simply not considered a priority. That is not a challenge of cost, but a challenge of perception. Bandages are not expensive, and rescue equipment can be made from locally sourced materials at low cost. However, it is accepted here that people get hurt and that people drown in swimming pools. As long as there is rescue equipment available for the police to see if they come to investigate a death, then there are no repercussions.
It is a perception that Nile Swimmers is trying to change. During the pilot pool lifeguard programme run in September 2015, participants are asked to look around the training pool and make a list of hazards. Next, they are asked to consider how the risks associated with those hazards can be mitigated for little to no money, whether that be by providing locally sourced rescue equipment or putting up “No Diving” signs in shallow water. The final stage of this process is getting participants to think about how they can convince the managers of their own pools that such changes are necessary and can be of benefit. The messages that we try to get them to consider are that “drowning is bad for business” and that “a safe pool is a popular pool”. By equipping the lifeguards with these tools, slowly but surely, we can make safety a priority at swimming pools in Sudan.