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A dramatic rise in river drowning deaths and an increase in fatal incidents involving ‘other’ nationalities are features of the 2016 toll.

Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) released the 2016 annual drowning toll figures today. There were 81 preventable drowning deaths, a slight decrease from 86 in 2015 but the same as the five-year average.

“These figures show the huge amount of work still required to bring down New Zealand’s high drowning toll” says WSNZ CEO Jonty Mills.

River deaths topped the table. After a record low of 10 river drowning deaths in 2012 there were 24 in 2016, 60% higher than the five-year average.

“This highlights the need for greater vigilance around rivers,” says Mills. “Rivers are very changeable, currents can be deceptive and objects can move and shift under the surface. We will work closely with local authorities to tackle this growing problem.”

There were 13 drowning deaths involving nationalities other than NZ European, Maori, Asian and Pacific peoples. That’s the highest number since records began, with 39% of the deaths occurring while swimming.

“This could be a combination of a more diverse demographic living in New Zealand, growing immigration and tourism, and perhaps unfamiliarity of local conditions,” says Mills.

Mills says this shows more work needs to be done to educate new Kiwis and visitors to our shores. “We need to find better ways of connecting with this group so they can learn about our waterways, be aware of the conditions and know their own limits to make better decisions.”

Drowning remains largely a male issue with men making up 85% of all drowning deaths. “Men continue to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the risk when it comes to water,” says Mills. “The macho kiwi attitude that still seems to exist when men partake in water based activities continues to be a deadly one.”

The Northland and Waikato regions combined made up 42% of the total preventable drownings in 2016, with Waikato experiencing a 55% increase on their five year average and over half of their drowning deaths occurring in Rivers in 2016.

Jonty Mills says a program through Hamilton City Council is already underway to educate young teens in the Waikato around river safety in this known local risk environment. “This has been a focus of ours as there has been an increase in incidents particularly involving young people. We need to give them the lifelong skills to make wise decisions and survive.”

In contrast, the South Island contributed 13, or 16%, of the total preventable drownings in 2016 and well down on the five-year average of 21. An encouraging trend has also seen the toll for the ‘under-fives’ equal the lowest on record of three in 2015, which is half the five year average.

Read the 2016 Provisional Drowning Prevention Report


Jonty Mills – CEO

Jonty joined Water Safety New Zealand in 2016. Previously he had spent more than 20 years in communications and external affairs leadership, operations and business development roles. He brings expertise in stakeholder management to CEO and ministerial level, with a blend of private and public sector experience.   A long-standing member of BP's Senior Leadership team and media spokesperson Jonty has a background of leadership roles in marketing, operations and business development across commercial and retail business channels.  During his time at BP, he was responsible for managing the company’s community partnerships – including Surf Life Saving New Zealand, Young Enterprise Trust and Royal Society of New Zealand – and has experience in advocacy as the interface between BP and central and local Government. He also helped embed safety as the number one priority and value across the organisation and is a strong advocate for Water Safety New Zealand’s core values and strategic direction.   027 478 1836 

Spike in River Deaths the Stand Out in 2016 Drowning Stats

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