On 28 April 2021, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution on drowning prevention, acknowledging the issue for the first time in its 75-year history. New Zealand, along with over 80 countries worldwide, including Australia and some Pacific Nations, co-sponsored this historic resolution, which was initiated by Bangladesh and Ireland.
Drowning cost the world over 2.5 million lives in the last decade. The vast majority of these deaths could have been prevented.
Drowning affects every nation of the world – though its impact is disproportionate. 90 percent of drowning deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, with Asia carrying the highest burden.
In New Zealand, drowning is the leading cause of recreational death and the third highest cause of accidental death. In 2020 there were 74 preventable fatal drownings and with a fatal drowning rate of 1.7 per 100,000 people, these statistics put New Zealand at the higher end of OECD countries. ACC spends more than $72 million a year on water-related injuries and there are on average approximately 190 hospitalisations each year from drowning related incidents.
“Drowning is a preventable public health problem. Although overall rates have been trending down on a per capita basis over the last 20 years, our drowning toll remains stubbornly high” says Maurice Kidd, Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) chair.
“Each fatality comes with a social and economic cost, as well as a life cut short. Many more can suffer a non-fatal drowning incident; often resulting in long-term consequences that leave families and communities devastated” says Kidd.
As the lead agency WSNZ works with the wider water safety sector to develop a collaborative approach to reduce drowning fatalities and injuries in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
On 11 March this year, the Hon Pryanca Radhakrisnan, Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector launched the sector’s Wai Ora Aotearoa: Navigating to a safer future - New Zealand Water Safety Sector Strategy 2025.
“The Strategy commits sector partners to continue to work together towards common drowning prevention goals with greater impact and efficiency.”
“As an organisation dedicated to saving lives on and around the water, WSNZ is thrilled to have supported Member States in efforts to secure a UN Global Drowning Prevention Resolution. A new UN international day for drowning prevention on 25 July offers an annual, global opportunity for governments, water safety organisations, and the public to come together to recognise the preventability of drowning, and the positive, practical actions that all of us can take to keep individuals, families and communities safe”, says Sheridan Bruce, WSNZ Communications Manager.
The next step for WSNZ will be to ensure all water safety sector partners are aware of the resolution and what it says, and what it potentially means for the operations of the water safety sector in New Zealand. The WHO will be organising webinars for disseminating information about the resolution and the first UN declared Drowning Prevention Day in July 2021.
30 April 2021
Notes for editors:
- The General Assembly adopted draft resolution Global Drowning Prevention https://undocs.org/A/75/L.76
- Global Drowning Prevention Resolution - New York Press Release
- WHO Global Report on Drowning (2014). WHO, Geneva, Switzerland. Available on-line at: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/global-report-on-drowning-preventing-a-leading-killer
- WHO Technical Report: Preventing drowning: an implementation guide (2017). WHO, Geneva, Switzerland. Available on-line at: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/preventing-drowning-an-implementation-guide
- Wai Ora Aotearoa: Navigating to a safer future - New Zealand Water Safety Sector Strategy 2025 can be accessed here: https://sector.watersafety.org.nz/
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 As estimated 2.5 million lives lost to drowning in the last 10 years based on WHO estimates.
 World Health Organization, Global Health Estimates, 2019.
 Water Safety New Zealand DrownBase™