NZ drowning stats labelled “a national disgrace”

There were 74 preventable drowning deaths in New Zealand last year, eight of which occurred in the Bay of Plenty. File Photo.

The chief executive of Water Safety New Zealand has labelled the country’s drowning statistics a “national disgrace” after the announcement of the WSNZ Drowning Report for 2021.

Daniel Gerrard’s comment comes after a spate of recent water deaths across New Zealand, with the report showing 74 people died in “preventable drownings” throughout 2021, including eight in the Bay of Plenty.

Drowning is now the leading cause of recreational death in New Zealand and the third highest cause of accidental death.

The figure of 74 in 2021 was the same as 2020 and down on the 2015-19 five-year average of 80. However, considering Auckland and other parts of the nation spent large periods of time under lockdown, the figure is still considered high.

“Every preventable death is devastating to a family/whānau and the community,” says Daniel.

“Despite much of the country being in lockdown for a lengthy period again last year, drowning contributed to 74 fatalities. These tragedies could and should not happen and are a tragic reminder of the importance of being cautious around water.”

New Zealand’s recent spell of tragedies on the water is highlighted by the drowning toll for December 2021. Last month saw 20 deaths recorded. This is the highest monthly amount for December since 1996. Prior to those fatalities, 2021 was on track to see “lower-than-average” drowning statistics.

“Our drowning toll is something every New Zealander should see as a national disgrace and one we all have a responsibility to address,” says Daniel.

“We all need to make better decisions around water.

“Remember the water safety code. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and each other, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.”

In the Bay of Plenty, eight people died in 2021 from preventable drownings. A preventable fatality relates to those including recreational and non-recreational drownings and not those classified as other, resultant of road traffic events or homicides, for example.

Of the eight deaths in our region, three occurred whilst swimming with another two occurring during powered boating activities. The other three deaths involved one fatality in an immersion incident, another underwater and the other during water sport activities. The youngest death was a child under four-years-old.

The location of the Bay of Plenty drownings varied. Two each occurred offshore, in rivers and in tidal waters. One death was recorded at a beach and the eighth at inland still water.

Like the rest of the nation, the figures are particularly bad for men. Seven of the eight Bay of Plenty fatalities were male. Across New Zealand, 84 per cent of the 74 total drownings occurred in men.

Māori are also disproportionately represented, with 31 per cent of fatalities despite Māori comprising just 16.5 per cent of the total population.

Significantly, 96 per cent of Māori drowning deaths and 100 per cent of the Pacifica deaths were men. People of Asian ethnicity accounted for 16 per cent of deaths.

Auckland, Waikato and Wellington each had 12 drowning deaths in 2021. Whilst Auckland fatalities are down 20 per cent from 2020 and on the five-year average Wellington’s total of 12 deaths is up 140 per cent on the prior year and 100 per cent of the five-year average – the highest number of fatalities for Wellington since 1998.

Waikato’s total of 12 is also up, 50 per cent on 2020 and 20 per cent on the five-year average.

Swimming resulted in the most drowning fatalities in 2021 accounting for 31 per cent. Most of these occurred at rivers (8) or beaches (6).

The 18 Boating deaths accounted for 24 per cent of the year's drowning toll, up 80 per cent from the prior year’s 10 deaths but similar to the five-year average. The majority of boating incidents occurred in tidal waters. Boating drowning fatalities were more likely to involve people 45+ years.

Underwater activities such as scuba diving, snorkeling and free diving accounted for 11 per cent of the drowning deaths, down 33 per cent on the 2020 total and equal to the five-year average.

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National disgrace?

Posted on 19-01-2022 17:38 | By morepork

No, I don’t think so. It is a disgrace that the teaching of water safety and swimming skills to kids, was abolished because school pools "cost too much" to use and maintain. The "disgrace" is with the Governments that allowed this to happen. What price do we put on 74 disrupted and devastated families in one year, with the numbers rising...? We live on an island; water skills are essential for our safety and well-being. EVERYBODY should have access to water survival information and training, and the best place for that is at school.