More Australians drown in horror year as review of water safety strategy is announced


While children under five remain the group most likely to drown, the number of older Australians getting into trouble in the water has also increased.

Australia's waterways have been particularly hazardous over the past year.

The annual Royal Life Saving Report National Drowning Report has revealed a 38 per cent increase in the number of drowning deaths among children under five.

Nationally, nine more Australians drowned in the 2016/17 period than in the previous year, bringing that national tally to 291.

Most deaths occurred in rivers, followed by beaches, while improperly supervised or fenced home swimming pools remain a danger for children.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced a review in the country's water safety strategy on Tuesday.

"There has to be more education. There has to be better targeted education. That's about swimming. It's about where to swim, about vigilance and taking care of others," he said.

"Many times in this place it is too easy to look the other way or gloss over something. There's no glossing over 291 deaths."

Australians aged 75 years and over also accounted for a spike in figures, with 36 people in that age group drowning.

Dr Bernadette Matthews, principal research associate with Life Saving Victoria, said older people may overestimate their fitness levels.

She also pointed out the hidden dangers some medications may pose, with many increasing the risk of falling. This could lead to someone falling into water and being unable to get themselves out.

Dr Matthews has encouraged people not to swim alone, and get themselves checked by a doctor to ensure their level of fitness is appropriate.

"That highlights the need for all Australians to be aware of the increased drowning risk associated with pre-existing medical conditions, and the impacts of medications and the dangers of swimming alone," she said.

The report is the first to look at both fatal and non-fatal drownings.

The Society estimates close to 700 people were hospitalised after such incidents, with many non-fatal cases require ongoing medical treatment.

Dr Matthews says there are physical as well as emotional impacts.

"There can be long term brain damage, there's also the ongoing trauma to the families and everyone involved in such an incident," she said.

"We really thought that it's important to broaden the picture of drowning to show that there is multiple effects on many different people in our community."

The changing make-up of society can also be challenging.

Amy Peden, national manager of research and policy with the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia, said people coming from overseas account for 30 -40 per cent of the nation's drowning statistics.

In the past 12 months, 20 international tourists drowned in Australian waterways, almost all of them from either European or Asian countries.

Ms Peden said some new migrants may have little idea about water safety.

"People who've migrated to Australia might've come as asylum seekers, refugees."

"They have other priorities when they resettle in Australia - learning the language, getting a job, getting into school, learning their way around so water safety is not often a priority, but we are working with those communities because we want them to enjoy our waterways as well," she said.


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