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Nov 27, 2013 08:40 AM EST

Rip Currents - the Leading Cause of Death in Australia, Study

Dr Rob Brander
(Photo : UNSW) Dr Rob Brander

Majority of Australian deaths are caused due to ocean rip currents than combined bushfires, cyclones, floods, and shark attacks, according to a University of New South Wales (UNSW) study.

For the study, researchers analysed the data from Australia's National Coronial Information System from 2004 to 2011.

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They found that rip currents are accounted for average 21 human casualties every year when compared to 5.9 bushfire deaths, 4.3 floods victims, 7.5 cyclone fatalities and 1 shark death. Males represented most rip-related deaths with 84.5 percent while females accounted for 15.5 deaths. Deaths from rip currents were more prevalent in age group 25 to 29 with 14.1 percent followed by 12.7 percent in the 20 to 24 age bracket.

"Rips account for greater overall loss of human life than other high profile natural hazards. Yet they do not get anywhere near as much attention and dedicated funding," Dr Rob Brander, a coastal geomorphologist at UNSW and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

 "And this is likely to be an underestimate because there has to be a witness to an event who saw the person was caught in a rip, and then this information has to be included in the coronial report."

Brander's team also used information from the Australian Emergency Management Institute National Disaster Database to identify the average number of deaths caused by rips, natural disasters and shark attacks since the mid-to-late 1800s.

"Other types of hazards, like bushfires, have the capacity to claim large numbers of lives in a single event. On the other hand, rip currents are almost always present and rarely result in more than one death at a time. But in the end, more people die as a result of them," said Brander, Australia's top rip expert.

The study is published in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth Science Systems.

'Unlike a disaster where there is a mass loss of life from one incident, rip currents do not have that shock value,'' Brander said. ''Someone will drown, and then someone else will drown a few days later in a different location. It is not widely reported and people become complacent about the severity of the hazard," Sydney Morning Herald reports.           

''Studies show Australians do not understand rips and cannot identify rips as well as they think they can.''

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