Training could cut drowning rate by 75pc




Former Waitakere mayor Bob Harvey has set up a trust to stop Kiwi kids drowning at what he calls an appalling rate.

The New Zealand Surf Lifesaving president has created the Aquatic Education New Zealand Trust, an initiative charged with making schoolchildren safer in the water.

"For many Kiwi kids, basic swimming and water safety skills are unknown, and that means they are drowning at a completely unacceptable level," Harvey said.

"It's appalling. We have got to stop our kids drowning. That's it. Every kid should be taught how to swim at school. It's our only hope."

Harvey said many New Zealand children were unfamiliar with the water. "We are seeing, at the beaches, more and more kids who are frightened of the water and who cannot swim. Drowning used to be the 'New Zealand death', and we are returning to that. It is a serious problem for this country."

New Zealanders drown at twice the rate of Australians. In 2010, 86 people drowned, including six aged under 14. In 2009, 114 people drowned, 13 of them under 14.

Harvey said the trust would help children learn how to be careful around water. "It means they will grow up with a good understanding of how to keep safe while having fun in the water."

While the education curriculum says all students must learn basic aquatic skills such as swimming 200m by the end of Year 6, many schools have been forced to close their pools.

"There are so many schools with pools that are empty with grass growing at the bottom," Harvey said.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty released figures showing 294 school pools had closed since 2000, including 78 in 2005. The trust says schools face challenges in the delivery of aquatic education, including the cost of transport, pool entry and lack of public pools.

To counter that a new Pools2Schools initiative will take a heated, covered portable pool to schools without one. WaterSafe Auckland business manager Teresa Stanley says water safety knowledge could prevent around 75% of drownings.

"It's about the decisions you make around water and being able to take your skills from a pool into open water where the risks may not be apparent. This type of education really can save lives."


- Sunday Star Times