Despite earning a huge amount of revenue from Cox’s Bazar beach, the government seems to be reluctant to take adequate measures from protecting tourists from drowning.
The core tourism season has already started on November 1. At least 50,000 to 100,000 holidaymakers are visiting the longest beach every day in the peak season and the number of tourists increases further on holidays.
Of the 120-kilometre long beach in Cox’s Bazar, four kilometres are considered ‘protected’ where only five life guards work at a time.
“Two life guards work in the watch tower, two remain on patrol and one monitors tourists’ movement in the water through a boat,” said Md Joynal Abedin, in-charge of SeaSafe Life Guard, the only private company working in Cox’s Bazar on tourists’ safety.
Some 27 life guards are working on shift basis from an area stretching from Kolatoli Point to Diabetic Hospital Point of the beach. No one works for tourists’ safety in rest of the 116-kilometre beach areas. Consequently, the number of tourist deaths is increasing in Cox’s Bazar.
According to SeaSafe Life Guard, some 36 people died from drowning in the sea water in the last 5 years. At least 8 tourists died in the first ten months of this year. The latest incident of tourist’s death was reported on Thursday.
Life guards saved 470 tourists from the beach in the last 5 years, including 80 this year alone.
Additional Superintendent of Police of Tourist Police Cox’s Bazar, Md Rezaul Karim, said, “There are no divers on the beach or in Cox’s Bazar Fire Service to rescue tourists trapped in the cave or in the sand. If necessary, we call them from Chattogram.”
Apart from inadequate numbers of life guards, shortage of modern equipment to rescue tourists is another big hurdle for the people working for safety in the beach.
Asked about the equipment they have, Management Supervisor of SeaSafe Life Guard Saifullah Sifat said, “We don’t have much equipment except nine skitubes and a boat to protect tourists in the vast beach.”
Life guards and members of tourist police team said there is no permanent medical team from the health department in the beach though first aid facilities are available at several tourist police boxes.
They said life guards often struggle to provide initial treatment after rescuing tourists in critical condition. No oxygen facility is available in the beach. There is no ambulance dedicated for the world’s longest beach.
According to them, still if a tourist is found unconscious, he/she has to be taken to Cox’s Bazar Sadar Hospital, which is located two kilometres away, on an easy bike or a small beach bike. Therefore, people die before reaching the hospital.
Cox’s Bazar Hotel Guesthouse Owners’ Association President Abul Kashem Sikder said though tourists arrive at the beach throughout the year, they do business in five months from November to March.
According to tourism sector insiders, some 100,000 tourists stay in hotels for at least 60 days out of 150 days in these five months. Around 6 to 7 million tourists visit the beach during the peak season. Besides, 2 million more tourists visit Cox’s Bazar in other time of the year.
As per this estimate, if at least 8 million people explore the sandy beach every year and each of them spends Tk 3,000 per day for their accommodation, food, shopping and travel, the tourism sector makes some Tk 2,400 crore from them.
Different government organisations said Tk 10,000 are earned by selling dry fish, sea fish, salt, snails, oyster and tourism related products in Cox’s Bazar. The government gets over Tk 700 crores as revenue from there.
Money is also earned from renting hundreds of shops and allowing horses, beach bikes, umbrella chair (kitcots), Zedski, mobile photography, mobile tea-coffee shops, fried fish shops and numerous other businesses. But, according to the sector insiders, when it comes to the safety of tourists, beach management authorities only give leap service.
The Daily Sun made several phone calls to Cox’s Bazar Deputy Commissioner and Beach Management Committee Chairman Md Mamunur Rashid, but he did not respond.
Asked about tourists’ safety, Cox’s Bazar Additional District Magistrate Abu Sufian said, “The lifeguards who are working now have diver training, but they are not equipped to go under the sea for an hour. There are ambulances at Laboni, Sugandha and Kolatoli points of the beach.”
Talking about medical teams, he said, “There is no permanent medical team as such teams are required only during consecutive holidays when several lakhs of tourists gather on the beach. A decision in this regard will be taken soon.”