Plea for change in water safety funding

Drowning prevention funding in New Zealand is largely voluntary. Supplied photo.

New Zealand is towards the upper end of drowning death rates in the OECD, yet water safety funding is mostly voluntary.

In 2016 there were 78 preventable fatalities and drowning hospitalisations are on the rise, says Water Safety New Zealand CEO Jonty Mills.

“The social and economic cost of drowning far outweighs funding to the water safety sector, and strategic and innovative initiatives are required to bring down our high drowning toll,” says Jonty.

Drowning prevention funding is mainly from the New Zealand Lotteries Grant Board and administered through Sport New Zealand, and supported by ACC.

“The water safety sector is predominantly non-Government funded and supported by volunteers. Any additional funding is a lifeline providing vital education to the most vulnerable.”

Funding is distributed to professional and national sport and recreation organisations, swim schools, local authorities, regional sports trusts, Plunket and Trusts which administer water safety education initiatives.

The Lotteries Grants Board boosted the funding available to community groups providing water safety instruction this year by $400,000.

There's $1,664,260 available for distribution by Water Safety New Zealand this year - $129,260 more than 2016-17 – an 8.4 per cent increase primarily due to the increase in NZ Lotteries Grant Board funding.

As the lead agency in the water safety sector Water Safety New Zealand is tasked with delivering funding strategies to tackle New Zealand's drowning problem. In its 2017/18 Drowning Prevention Investment Round, WSNZ is funding organisations working with the vulnerable and at risk to deliver much needed water safety education and support.

Specifically, $1.189m will be allocated to providers to deliver the national aquatic initiative Water Skills For Life to children aged 5-13 years across the country.

With a reduction in the level of water safety education in schools, WSFL makes more effective use of the time students spend in the pool. Based on core water safety competencies, WSFL provides foundational water safety knowledge and the ability to assess risk.

“With the changing nature of the drowning problem in New Zealand and increasing pressure on the sector to meet growing expectations, it's imperative water safety skills training becomes an integral part of the education process for all New Zealand children” says Jonty.

The launch in 2015 of the Water Safety Sector Strategy 2020, by then Sport and Recreation Minister Jonathan Coleman, was a significant milestone and an attempt to create a step-change in Kiwi attitudes and behaviour around water.

The strategy sets bold targets for a reduction in drownings, particularly those involving males who make up 86 per cent of all fatalities.

While the sector is more aligned and efficient the number of preventable drowning fatalities has plateaued while the number of drowning related hospitalisations is increasing.

This reflects the complex nature of the drowning problem, says Jonty.

“We have a diverse and growing population, an expansive network of unpatrolled waterways, beaches, lakes and rivers and a broad range of water based activities.”

To view the full list of funding recipients visit the Water Safety New Zealand website.


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