UN stresses role of insurance in preparing for major disasters


Insurance against damage to property can boost people’s resilience in the event of disasters, the United Nations office on disaster risk reduction has stressed, pointing out that only nine per cent of building owners affected by the last month’s earthquake in Turkey had insured them.

“Insurance is not a panacea, but it helps individuals cope after suffering losses from a big earthquake or storm,” said Andrew Maskrey, lead author of Global Assessment Report for Disaster Risk Reduction, issued by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).
“However, if countries don’t invest in disaster risk reduction then insurance will not be affordable,” he said in an UNISDR article published yesterday on the importance of insurance in disaster preparedness, UN News Service reports.

Insurance could play a key part of any society’s ability to function in the face of extreme catastrophe.

According to Turkey’s main earthquake insurance authority, limited awareness, low incomes and lax enforcement are the reasons why most of those affected by the quake in the country’s southeast on 23 October had no insurance for their homes and other buildings. The 7.2-magnitude quake killed more than 600 people and injured 4,000 others.

UNISDR cited the estimates of risk modelling firms which show that as a result of the low levels of insurance in Turkey, claims related to the earthquake will be worth some $170 million, compared to the $12 billion that insurance companies paid out after the earthquake in New Zealand in February, and $22 billion in claims following the quake and tsunami in Japan in March.

In rural Africa, where entire food crops are often destroyed by droughts or floods, insurance could play a strong role in helping people recover, but insurance awareness remains extremely low in the continent.
“Insurance could play a key part of any society’s ability to function in the face of extreme catastrophe,” said Tricia Holly Davis, the Director of Commercial Sustainability at Willis Re/Willis Research Network, a member of UNISDR’s private sector advisory group. “But how do you explain insurance to a society that has never used it?”

Ms. Davis said governments had a role to play in boosting community resilience through insurance.
“There needs to be a lot more understanding about the level of responsibility and resources that governments have,” she said. “How do you get governments to budget for disaster risk reduction in national allocation plans? And as part of that, what role does insurance play? Through the UN platform we are able to have conversations with governments, to understand them better and, in turn, to help inform policy.”