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Sunday 20 October 2019
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Aripo tragedy

We express condolences to the family of hiker Richard Baird, 55, whose body was found down a 600-foot precipice in Aripo. Since he went missing on Saturday, all had hoped for a happy ending to this story. By Tuesday it was clear this was not to be. Baird’s death comes during the holiday period when leisure activities such as hikes are well subscribed. Though officials will have to determine the cause of death, the circumstances of his disappearance raise questions over health and safety practices on these hikes as well as the duties of hike operators. It may be that this matter is too grave to be left in the hands of private individuals and the State should play a stronger role.

There have been conflicting reports on what may have transpired last Saturday. But the fact remains that every hike poses specific risks, all of which must be catered for. People contemplating going on hikes should be aware of these risks and should be cautioned about them. In the first place, a hike is potentially a strenuous physical activity. People with various medical conditions should be mindful. If you have asthma, diabetes, a heart condition, knee or back problems, or any other health or medical issue, you must limit both your exertion and your exposure. Stay within your training, physical limitations, and abilities.

Hikers must also be aware of their environment. This means keeping track of one another and not getting left behind. Questions have been raised about how Baird fell behind the group.

One relative has even gone so far as to suggest all hikes should adopt a simple system to ensure none is left behind. This system would see key personnel man the group at the start, middle and end. Such a system, if executed by people with experience and competence, can be useful. But the environment also poses certain risks. Hikers have to be aware of the weather conditions, the terrain, the nature of the surrounding flora and fauna. Knowledge of the biota present should also be a basic requirement for operators. During a hike, fellow hikers should also look out for each other. Always remain in a group and communicate any difficulties or deviations. It is also important for there to be adequate breaks built into the hike and for hikers to remember the need to conserve energy and supplies for the return segment of the expedition.

Hiking is a popular activity. In addition to being a good form of exercise, it is also part of our tourism package.

If we are serious about developing the eco-tourism niche market, then we must ensure that best practices prevail across the board when it comes to hike operators. We do not comment on any particular party or entity but note there have long been concerns about the degree of organisation of local hiking companies. Some have questioned the professionalism of these entities, which are normally family-owned, informal or small businesses.

While every person going on a hike has a duty to be adequately prepared for any eventuality, because of the nature of the risks involved, and the fact that hiking can be a vital part of our tourism package, there may need to be greater involvement by the State in the regulation of hikes. Hike operators – whether incorporated companies or groups and private clubs – should be made to seek permits to conduct hikes along specified routes.

The conditions for granting these permits should be tied to the resources and competencies of the operators as well as any other relevant factor, such as the nature of the terrain or likelihood of bad weather.

Operators should be made to conform to a requisite level of sophistication in operations and should pass all health and safety requirements. The Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of National Security and the ODPM should collaborate on devising robust systems. Hiking should not be deadly. It should be a fun and income-earning part of our tourism package. Let’s make it so.

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