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The roadmap to reduce preventable drownings.

Updated: Aug 5, 2022

Introducing Wai ora Aotearoa: Navigating to a safer future. New Zealand Water Safety Sector Strategy 2025 – the water safety sector’s collective approach to ensure everyone connects to and enjoys the water safely.

This is a significant event – As the lead agency Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) has been working with the wider sector to develop a collaborative approach to reduce drowning fatalities and injuries in Aotearoa/New Zealand over the next five years.

“Achieving this vision will address the drowning problem in our country,” says WSNZ Board Chair Maurice Kidd.

As New Zealanders and visitors, we enjoy some of the most magnificent waterways in the world. At the same time, they are not without risk and demand respect. Too many people needlessly lose their lives or are injured in, on or around the water.

Drowning is the leading cause of recreational death and the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand. The fatal drowning rate is 1.59 per 100,000 people which is at the higher end of OECD countries. ACC spends more than $72 million a year on water-related injuries.

“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. Each fatality comes with a social and economic cost, as well as a life cut short – often a young life. Many more can suffer a non-fatal drowning incident; often resulting in long-term consequences that leave families and communities devastated” says Maurice Kidd.

A closer relationship between WSNZ and ACC is key to tackling our high rates of drowning fatalities and injuries in Aotearoa/New Zealand. ACC supports the efforts of the sector by way of its investment in WSNZ leadership and co-ordination of sector activities and also as principal partner for Water Skills for Life that teaches water survival skills to over 200,000 tamariki every year.

“ACC was not a formal part of the working group that developed the strategy as it is sector driven and owned. However we have been consulted on this strategy and are supportive of the direction and collaborative efforts of the sector to drive down New Zealand’s high drowning toll,” says ACC injury prevention leader Kirsten Malpas.

ACC also funded the two year pilot of Kia Maanu Kia Ora – a kaupapa Māori approach to Māori water safety that acknowledges that the physical and spiritual properties of wai are integral to water safety.

Kia Maanu Kia Ora is based on the Wai Puna model of Dr Chanel Phillips (Ngāti Hine, Ngāpuhi) from the University of Otago. This model also underpins the outlook of this strategy. The three pillars of Wai Puna encapsulates the importance of strengthening connection to water through Whakapapa: Attitudes & Beliefs, Mātauranga: Knowledge and Tikanga: Behaviour.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is Aotearoa New Zealand’s founding document. The water safety sector is committed to upholding the mana of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the principles of Partnership, Protection and Participation in order to obtain better water safety outcomes for Māori.

Wai ora Aotearoa: Navigating to a safer future commits sector partners to continue to work together towards common goals with greater impact and efficiency. “This sector alignment will ensure maximum buy-in to the vision and mission of the water safety sector and will in turn support sector organisations to incorporate this strategy into their own plans,” says Kidd.

The sector has developed aspirational goals, determined measurable targets, and agreed an action plan to achieve the sector outcomes. “There has been strong collaboration during the development of this strategy. We now need to continue to work constructively together to implement, monitor and evaluate our action plan, so that we reach our vision - Everyone connects to and enjoys the water safely”.

As the lead agency of the sector, Water Safety New Zealand will drive the strategy’s implementation, and report back. The sector will also stand accountable for its results.

“However, no one organisation can make the step change alone. This strategy is our collective response,” says WSNZ Board Chair Maurice Kidd.
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