18 Sep 2023

A design to the rescue - lifejackets for use in India

From Here Now, 5:00 am on 18 September 2023

Floods in India claimed hundreds of lives this monsoon season, but an Indian expat in New Zealand is hoping his new invention will help bring the toll down.

Massey doctoral graduate Areef Shaik came to Aotearoa in 2018 and has spent much of the past five years designing a new type of lifejacket for flood rescue workers at the Indian National Disaster Response Force.

Areef said the lifejackets currently used by rescuers in India were not up to the job.

“They just use one size of lifejacket, which doesn’t fit everyone,” he said.

“It doesn’t really fit someone who is very small or very big.”

Rescuers, shown here in Kolhapur,  have been using boats to ferry people to safety, but have been hampered by downpours.

Photo: Supplied/National Disaster Response Force India

The jackets were uncomfortable and difficult to move in, hampering rescuers while rowing, swimming and bending over.

“I put them on in my office and I couldn’t even wear them for an hour. It was so uncomfortable,” Areef said. 

As part of his PhD thesis at Massey University in Wellington, Areef decided to create a new type of life jacket specifically for the conditions rescuers face in floods. The design he ultimately landed on was inspired by a traditional Indian garment.

“This idea I got from the Indian sari,” Areef explained. “So, it doesn’t have a centre front when you have buttons or zippers.

"It has the potential to spread across your body and fit to a wider range [of body types]”

Areef said his designs were currently under evaluation by the Indian National Disaster Response Force.

He was in talks with a manufacturer to translate his design into something which could be mass-produced, he said.