Riyadh Ma’zozi / Algeria
Saturday, 6th of February 2021, was the last day of the winter holiday in Algeria. Six-year-old Enas Derraji went out of her house to play with her 4-year-old twin siblings, Murad and Manar. The three children went outdoors, but they never came back home because they drowned. The accident left their parents and their acquaintances in a state of great grief and extreme resentment.
Attempting to rescue her little siblings from drowning, Enas herself drowned!
The incident took place in Shirshali Farm, located next to Moriti Awlad Bidlaj neighborhood that is administratively a part of Saoula district in the capital city of Algeria.
As usual, the three kids went out to play in their family’s farm, located near their house.
In an interview with Tiny Hand, Amer Derraji, the father of the drowned kids, narrated the story with his eyes full of tears. He said, “The kids used to go out together; play together; and come back home together. The eldest sister, Enas, used to keep an eye on them. She was set to go back to school as a primary-one student on Sunday, 7th of February, 2021.”
“This time, they chose to play in the family’s farm located near the house. Inside this farm, there is a pool basically used for irrigating. At first, the twin, Murad and Manar, drowned in the pool. Then, Enas, who is also too young, tried to help them, but she drowned, too,” he added.
The three siblings were brought back home in coffins after the civil rescue teams arrived and pulled out the youngest siblings’ bodies floating on the surface of the pool. Afterwards, the body of their elder sister, Enas, was dragged out from under the mud piled at the bottom of the pool.
Amer spoke in detail about the night before the incident, where Enas was helping her mother in preparing dinner. He said, “Her smile and laugh along with her siblings’ were everywhere in the house.”
Amer can never erase the memory of that moment when Enas and her mother finished making a dish called “Al-Rashta”, a local Algerian dish consisting of a dough soaked with chicken broth”, and invited him to eat saying, “Dinner’s ready!”
At that night, Amer dined with Enas and her twin siblings who, then, sung some songs she had learned at school. Next, Enas helped her little siblings change their clothes before repeating “good night!”. “In the morning,” added Amer, “the incident happened and I said goodbye to my three children.”
What happened on Saturday in Saoula district in the capital city of Algeria brings to limelight the problem of the lack of entertainment and play areas for kids. Samir Bin Jadi, a resident in that area, said that the major cause of the drowning of the three siblings was the lack of playgrounds where kids can entertain. Bin Jadi told Tiny Hand that “more than 150,000 people live in Saoula, 40% of the population are children.” “Here, there are no kids play areas. Even swings and slides are either broken or out-of-service,” he added.
Residents living there have asked their local authorities to provide kids play areas. However, as clarified by Abdul Samad Sirj to Tiny Hand, “the only response the residents have been receiving was mere promises.” “This indifference will led to the reoccurrence of drowning cases. In summer, for example, all pools, fountains, valleys and even dams are crowded with adventurous children who do not find any other places where they can play and have fun,” Sirj added.
According to 2016 statistics, there are 16 million children in Algeria; that is, 40% of the total population of Algeria (40.4 million people). According to Jamal Radi, an Algerian education inspector, these figures confirm that children who are under 15 constitute the majority of the Algerian population. Therefore, they need to receive due care in terms of education, general well-being, and even entertainment.
The inspector frankly spoke about the unfair distribution of playgrounds dedicated to entertain children across the residential areas there. He said: “Some residential areas contain a great number of residents, yet, they are free from entertainment places. In contrast, there are some areas that contain only a building or two, but have playgrounds for kids.”
“Even the educational institutions,” he added, “lack play and entertainment areas, especially at KG and primary grades. Kids at this age need such places to play. Such institutions provide only a small playground where physical education and training usually take place.”
The inspector gave some information about how playgrounds should look like. “They should be located near the residential blocks, be accessible on foot or by bicycles and away from big vehicles’ routes, and have the capacity to receive a great number of children,” he said.
In the inspector’s point of view, playground equipment should be placed away from power sources and iron. Besides, a playground should comprise toilets and some kiosks providing whatever services children and their companions might need. “Such playgrounds are supposed to be available in residential districts, educational institutions, and hospitals,” he emphasized.
While some of the residents in the area blamed the government for what happened, Abdul Majeed Zeri, lawyer, has a diverse opinion as he held the farmer responsible for the incident because the latter did not fence the pool. Zeri told Tiny Hand that the Algerian laws necessitate that landowners, farmers and peasants provide protection to all waterbodies such as pools, wells, and swamps. However, many peasants do not abide by such rules.”
Drowning became recurrent
Almost every month, the Civil Protection Authorities of Algeria (DGPC) reports the drowning of some children in water pools or valleys, particularly during summer. Just to give a few examples, in May, 2020, the area of BuJalal, in the province of Bumerdas, east of Algeria, recorded the drowning of 4 children aged between 3 and 7, and that was in a farm pond in a local farm there.
Again, in March of the same year and in the province of Um Albuwaqi, east of Algeria, members of the Civil Protection Authorities were able to pull out a child aged 7 after drowning in the village of Al-Badadia, Ain Alburj, Al-‘Ameriah Municipality, Seqous.
A third incident took place in March, 2018, in Bordj Bou Arréridj Province, where three children under 8 drowned in an irrigation basin.
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