IT has become customary for police and health officials to give out a report on the number of people who suffered injuries in the Christmas and New Year revelry.

It is as customary as gift-giving during Christmas and using firecrackers or noisemakers to welcome the new year. In morning-after reports, they come out with casualty counts that usually refer to the number of people rushed to hospitals with blast injuries and perhaps those involved in shooting or stabbing incidents.

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But that is the problem with casualty counts after every Christmas and New Year. They may give an idea of the extent of recklessness of the people who, despite warnings by the police and health officials, continue to play with firecrackers. The counts may boast of being lower than last year's but there is nothing to explain why they continue to happen, many times with deadly results, despite the several warnings.

How can one explain why three people, a pregnant woman and two minors, died in Mandaue City on Christmas eve when firecracker stalls went up in blasts and smoke, despite rules on the sale of firecrackers? How do you say law enforcement efforts were not enough to the parents of the six-year-old boy in Talisay City who died when a "lantaka" or improvised cannon blew up in his face?

There were firecracker injuries and persons hit by stray bullets.

Health officials said at least 57 people in Central Visayas were treated for blast or burn injuries blamed on firecrackers during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.

One local health official said this number was lower than last year's. Police and local government officials echoed the estimate of a lower count. It was as if they were required to say such things without explanation. Okay, the figures were down, but why did the injuries still happen?

There were contradictory assertions too like when a local health official said the number of firecracker injuries was down but a Metro Manila estimate showed an upward count. Even the police estimate is confusing with one official saying there were only stabbing incidents now compared to gunfights last year.

The reports on casualty counts do not also say that the numbers would not be there or would be zero next year because of steps they will be undertaking starting this month. Prevention is not something that is remembered only when the evenings turn cold or the bonus pay gets cashed. Government agencies could prepare early by setting up the firecracker zones and being clear as to the uses of such zones. The health department that has been calling for a ban on firecrackers should start advocacy work for changing the law or repealing it.

The best measurement--of how peaceful or orderly the celebrations--is when there is no such count anymore, when the morning-after reports of the police or the local government or the hospitals is on what they did to attain a zero casualty count.

Or we can leave it to the weather and maybe pray for rain every eve of Christmas and the New Year to dampen the revelry and bring down the count.

(ninicab@sunstar.com.ph)