The recent deaths of Qadir Shah and Max Phillip and another incident in which two hikers went missing during an outing, again brings the issue of the safety of individuals during such exercises and the lack of regulation of such activity by any government agency.
Although the Hiking Association of Trinidad and Tobago exists as a body for hiking groups, it is not armed with regulatory powers backed by law to truly act on indiscretion from errant members. More importantly, it is also in no position to monitor the scores of casual groups conducting such activity.
In the recent case of Shah, he was among a group of 14 hikers who were trekking in an area in Blanchisseuse when they got into difficulty after venturing into waters at Turtle Rock. Fishermen often note that waters at Turtle Rock, which is near Paria Bay, are difficult due to rough waters and rocks which are covered during high tide. That 14 members of Shah’s party got into the water, therefore, suggests they did not have critical information, which hiking leaders should have, to determine whether they could navigate the waters there. Unfortunately, Shah paid for this with his life.
In the case of Mohammed, he too was hiking when he went into a pool created by quarrying at Windsor Park, Couva, got into difficulty and drowned. From all reports, he was part of a sizeable group, none of whom seemed to know the danger the pool on the long-abandoned property represented.
Having said that, this media house is unaware of any investigation conducted by the Hiking Association of T&T to determine what occurred during the hike Shah was on, nor of any advisory from it since then highlighting safety measures that should be taken for hiking ventures. This no doubt is one of the failings of the body which, in 2017, dismissed one of its members following another incident in which a hiker died during an activity.
The restrictions implemented on other leisurely activity has no doubt had the resultant effect of an increase in hiking activity, as citizens seek other leisure and health outlet options. But even before this pandemic, hiking was popular because it was considered one of the best means of getting exercise in a natural environment.
Over the next few days, the Baptist Liberation Day holiday and the long Easter weekend and vacation for students will be opportunities for citizens to engage in a range of leisure activities, including hiking. Ensuring that these activities can be enjoyed safely should be the priority at times like this
Needless to say, measures must be put in place to ensure all groups conducting such activity are properly registered and monitored and that this information is made public so that citizens can pursue safe options when making decisions on hiking expeditions. Citizens outside hiking groups must also be educated on safety protocols. These latest incidents clearly require that either Ministry of the Agriculture, Land and Fisheries or Ministry of Tourism, under whose supervision such activity could fall, step in to form a regulatory body or that the HATT is given more teeth to regulate the activity.
We have already lost two members of society to what may be lax safety protocols. Their lives must not have been lost in vain.