Pool closures turning Germany into ′nation of non-swimmers′ | News | DW | 07.06.2019
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Pool closures turning Germany into 'nation of non-swimmers'

Lifeguards warn that more and more people in Germany are unable to swim: A quarter of primary schools no longer offer lessons; a pool closes every four days. As a consequence, drownings are on the up.

Germany's DLRG rescue association has renewed its petition demanding a nationwide funding plan to avoid further closures of public swimming pools so children can learn to swim safely as a basic lifelong skill.

Campaigners, who first initiated their appeal ahead of Germany's 2017 federal election, say half of all public pools have maintenance backlogs, with the total on the map shrinking to 6,400 last year — from 7,800 nearly two decades ago.

Read more: 100-year-old elected on mandate to reopen local pool

Seemingly rich Germany has numerous indebted municipalities which resort to closures, arguing they do not have the millions in funds needed to continue subsidizing or renovate pools, leaving schools and clubs without local facilities.

'Fun' complexes not always the best

Petitioners, who in 2017 included sports teachers and physiotherapists, also argue that booming, commercial fun-style complexes have designs often not suitable for regular swimming lessons and endurance training.

In April, the German parliament's budget committee allocated €200 million for 186 communal projects, including pools, with demand outstripping supply 13-fold.

Pool-rescue petitioners, however, say €14 billion is needed over 10 years in a combined plan funded by the federal government and 16 regional states to fulfilled legal obligations that swimming lessons be provided.

Closed swimming pool in Nuremberg

Will it reopen? Nuremberg's Volksbad was closed in 1993

Fewer swim lessons at schools

At primary level, 20% to 25% of schools could no longer offer swimming lessons because their localities lacked pools, said the DLRG lifesaving association.

"It's an absurdity that countless pupils cannot received swimming lessons," Peter Reinhard, high school deputy principle at Adenau in Germany's western Eifel region, told Koblenz's Rhein Zeitung newspaper on Friday.

In 2012, Adenau's local council, facing hefty roof repairs, closed down its Badenova, an indoor and outdoor pool complex used by more than four schools as well as water therapists to treat rheumatism and arthrosis patients.

Adenau, close to the multi-million-euro Nürburgring motor racing track, is still debating whether to replace its demolished swim center with a new complex.

Nearly two-thirds not accomplished swimmers

In 2017, 59% of Germany's 10-year-olds were not accomplished swimmers, according to a Forsa Institute survey commissioned by the DLRG.

That showed that swimming badges were held by only 40% of 6 to 10-year-olds. Across the population, 52% declared themselves to be non-swimmers or unsafe in the water. Older generations were more likely to have learnt swimming in their schooldays. 

Among those who defined themselves as swimmers, all but 3% had learned to swim before they turned 18. Few did so in adulthood.

Child drownings 

Ahead of what could become another summer of heat waves, the DLRG said 2018's toll of 504 drownings reflected a 38% rise in child and youth drownings as residents flocked to bathing spots.

Those 71 victims included 26 children of preschool and primary school age.

"We must retain pools, build pools, and not rationalize them away," said DLRG president Achim Haag. "Closures deplete water safety among the population and affordable social services."

Asylum-seekers often non-swimmers

Last year's drowning toll included 33 asylum-seekers, most of whom were non-swimmers, said the DLRG, prompting it to publish bathing safety rules in 30 languages and reflecting the fates of thousands lost during Mediterranean crossings.

All but 2% of Germany's outdoor swimming sites, including lakes and North Sea beaches, now fulfilled EU water quality standards, the federal UBA environment office announced on Thursday.

The best score of "excellent" went to 93% of Germany's bodies of water, while 74 were fully or partially closed due to blue algae infestations which multiply in summer.

The DLRG says its 45,000 lifeguards, mostly volunteers, keep watch at some 2,500 outdoor sites. It cautions swimmers against overestimating their abilities, for example, at German's numerous shingle excavation pits transformed into swimming holes.

ipj/rt (dpa, AFP)

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