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Haiti Has Minimal Insurance Cover for Earthquake Losses

Source: National Underwriter

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Posted on 14 Jan 2010

According to modeling firms, the magnitude 7.0 earthquake that caused catastrophic death and destruction in Haiti created hundreds of millions in economic damage, but insurance coverage for losses is minimal.

Risk Management Solutions of Newark, Calif., cited data from London-based AXCO insurance information services listing impoverished Haiti as one of the smallest markets in the Americas with a total non-life premium income of just under $20 million.

Insurance penetration is extremely low at around 0.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The majority of Haiti's insured risks are situated in Port-au-Prince, and motor insurance accounts for 50 percent of all non-life premiums, RMS said.

Eqecat catastrophe risk modeling firm in Oakland, Calif., estimated economic damages from yesterday’s quake to be “in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“Due to expected better underwriting standards than general building standards, insured buildings will generally perform better than the typical building, but this earthquake is very severe, and even well-designed buildings could expect damage from this event,” the firm said.

The epicenter of the quake was pinpointed as 10 miles south of Port-au-Prince, the capital city.

Eqecat said the quake was most likely a strike-slip on the Enriquillo Fault, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates occurred at a depth of 6 miles.

At least three aftershocks greater than magnitude 5.0 occurred in the hours immediately following the main shock. The earthquake was felt widely, including in the Dominican Republic, the southeastern portion of the Bahamas, as well as in Jamaica and Cuba.

RMS said current estimates are that up to two million people were affected by intense ground motions.

The firm said buildings in the region tend to be built with heavy materials (concrete, masonry) and with little or none of the lateral reinforcing needed for earthquake resistance.

Neena Saith, senior catastrophe response manager at RMS, noted initial reports of widespread damage and thousands of fatalities in Haiti. “Around Port-au-Prince there’s a striking contrast of high-end properties and shanty housing extending up the hillsides, with no building regulations in force to protect against earthquake damage,” she said.

“Early reports suggest hundreds of buildings have collapsed in Port-au-Prince, including the presidential palace, the World Bank local offices, hotels, a hospital, the University and the United Nations headquarters. Hundreds of other buildings have also been destroyed or sustained severe damage. Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to be made homeless; however, this is a very early estimation.”

Mary Lou Zoback, vice president for Earthquake Risk Applications at RMS, said Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80 percent of the population living under the poverty line and over 50 percent in abject poverty.

“As rural poor migrate to the major cities they often take up residence in shanty towns on the city margins. They live in self-constructed homes, built using available materials. This substandard construction cannot stand up to the frequent hurricanes, landslides and earthquakes that strike so many capital cities such as in Latin America, including Port-au-Prince,” she said.

Across Haiti’s infrastructure disruption created cutoffs in water, electricity and telephone services and widespread power outages. The damage hampered relief efforts and limited the amount of information reaching other countries.

The last major earthquake to hit Port-au-Prince occurred in 1770, causing 250 deaths and extensive damage. In recent years, only relatively minor earthquakes have been recorded, such as those in 1990 and 1994, with minimal to no damage, RMS said.

AIR Worldwide modeling firm said the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF)?a parametric insurance pool?launched in 2007 to limit the financial impact of catastrophic hurricanes and earthquakes by providing short-term liquidity when a policy is triggered. has issued a statement indicating that yesterday’s earthquake will likely trigger a payout.

A CAT-i report from Guy Carpenter reinsurance brokerage said cited a U.S. Geological Survey figure that three million people live in areas impacted by heavy quake intensity equivalent to very strong shaking with the potential for moderate to heavy damage.

It noted initial reports of widespread destruction, with heavily damaged structures that include the presidential palace, the five-story United Nations headquarters, World Bank offices, and collapsed hospitals and hotels in Port-au-Prince.

Guillermo Franco, senior research engineer at AIR Worldwide modeling firm in Boston noted that “Haiti has suffered more than its fair share of disaster in recent years. In 2008, it was hit by four tropical cyclones—Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike—in the course of three weeks. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne brought extensive flooding and landslides.”


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