October 11, 2006

Five drown in Tela

Beach at Tela, Honduras

Tela, like many of the north coast Honduran cities is aspiring to become a tourist mecca and has some big plans in the making for an ambitious tourism project. They see that as their only hope to improve the economy by providing jobs. Tela is a medium-sized city located about half way between San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba on the Caribbean sea.

In a really tragic story the other day, the Honduran La Prensa reported that two vacationing teenage Honduran girls, their brother, a cousin, and a female friend of the family drown off a public beach in Tela. Apparently one or more got caught in the undertow and the others drowned trying to rescue them.

This area has a very strong undercurrent and in the past 6 months there have been 10 drownings in that exact spot. The danger is so well known that the local fishermen call that area "el cementerio de los muertos" (the cemetery of the dead).

The municipalidad (city government) cannot afford to post lifeguards on this city beach. Actually there isn't much a lifeguard could do to help in this area with its terrible undertow anyway.

In years past, the Red Cross of Honduras provided a team of lifeguards but no longer can as they lack an ambulance and have only a loaned boat with motor that "no sirve para nada" (doesn't work). The Commander of the Red Cross was quoted as saying that the city should cordon off and signal the dangerous area with buoys and 'Danger Zone' signs.

So what is the solution? Cordon off the beach? Post some warning signs? Those might be logical, life-saving moves. But this is Honduras. So in a typical Honduran problem-solving manner, the solution was that the municipalidad declared it illegal for children to use that part of the beach.

Will they post signs to that effect on the beach? It's doubtful, since they couldn't afford to post warning signs in the first place. Will they have patrols to let people know that children aren't allowed there? They can't afford life guards so they certainly can't afford patrols. And what of the adults who drown there?

How much could it really cost to send a couple of men down to the beach with some wood and paint to stick a few signs in the ground. My guess is L. 1,000 ($53 U.S.) at most.

Sometimes I think everyone is so used to crying "there is no money" for this or that they can't ever see a simple solution to a problem. While it wouldn't be a perfect solution, at least it would show some consideration for the future lives that may be lost there. I'm willing to bet that if it had been five North American tourists who drown they would have come up with the money for a better solution.
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