Many areas in Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal came to a standstill yesterday and today as devastating hailstorms, torrential rain and strong winds tore off roofs, flooded roads, smashed windows and cars, uprooted trees and walls, and tragically claimed three lives. The increased frequency of extreme weather events over the past couple of years has been marked and left consumers and insurers counting the toll of weather related catastrophes.
According to ClimateWise, a coalition of global insurers, brokers and industry service providers, weather-related catastrophes such as floods, windstorms and droughts have increased six hundred percent since the 1950s, and have cost the world economy $170bn in 2016 alone, five times more than the 1980s and taking huge leap up from the $103billion in losses recorded in 2015.
Closer to home, flood events in 2016 racked up losses of R700m in insured losses, while the recent Knysna fires and Cape Town storms in June clocked in at over R4 billion in damages. Alarmingly, the gap between the cost of weather catastrophes and the insured values is growing.
Mandy Barrett of insurance brokerage and risk advisors, Aon South Africa, says the damage and havoc wrought across the country over the last few months and years highlights just how vulnerable we are to the changing weather patterns and climate change.
“The downpours happen in a matter of minutes with incredible intensity, with some areas reporting golf-ball size hailstones, proving that extreme weather catastrophes happen with very little warning, and there is just no telling as to how severe they will be. General consensus from meteorologists is that climate change is having a massive impact on property losses, and South Africa should brace for a new normal of abnormally heavy rain and hail storms, powerful winds and drought conditions in many regions,” says Barrett.
“There is no disputing that South Africa has seen a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of severe weather conditions over the last six years and there is no denying the impact of climate change in the insurance sector. Yesterday’s hail storm is almost a month earlier than the storm that ripped through the Gillooly’s Interchange in Bedfordview on 10 November 2016 which claimed lives and caused massive damages to property and vehicles.”
Barrett adds: “With much of October and November still ahead of us – traditionally the months that have tallied the most severe weather events and financial losses – there is a need for extra precautions. The severity of the flooding and damage we are seeing is alarming, and while there is little that you can do to prevent a flood, there are some important tips that can help protect your personal safety and assets in such freak weather conditions.”
Aon provides the following advice:
On the road:
· Take special note of weather warnings and if possible, avoid being on the road or out and about during such times.
· If you can, rather avoid driving in heavy downpours. Treacherous potholes could be hiding in the guise of a puddle. Never attempt to drive through a flooded area of the road – even a few centimetres of water is powerful enough to sweep a car away.
· If caught in a flash flood on the road, get yourself to safety as quickly as possible – if you can, get out of the vehicle and get to high ground. Don’t close all the windows as the water will cause a vacuum and trap you in the car.
· Many car accident claims are due to slippery roads and potholes. Tyre damage is not an uncommon occurrence, and is normally not covered by a motor insurance policy unless another part of the vehicle is damaged at the same time.
· Check your tyre tread and replace worn tyres – an accident claim could potentially be repudiated if the tread is deemed insufficient to have stopped the vehicle in time. The legally required minimum tread depth is 1.6mm.
· Increase your following distance and reduce your speed to allow enough time to react.
· Watch out for potholes as they are filled with water in rainy conditions. Heavy rainfalls can also cause potholes to appear where there weren’t any previously.
· Watch for motorists swerving to avoid objects in the road and be prepared to do the same.
· Many traffic lights are out of order during heavy rain, so drive carefully.
· Roads are congested with many tempers fraying, keep your cool.
Tips for home:
· Your homeowner’s insurance policy will cover any damage to the structure of the building as a direct result of freak rainstorms, but will not cover maintenance-related damage. This means that while your insurance will respond by repairing the damage caused by a leaking roof, it will not cover the repair of the roof’s waterproofing if it deteriorated due to lack of maintenance.
· If you’re faced with flooding of your property, try to move as many of your belongings as you can out of the water – the longer the water is left sitting, the more damage it causes. Try and clear away as much of the water as you possibly can to prevent further and permanent damage.
· Half a meter of paving along the perimeter of a building can help with damp problems.
· Keep gutters clear of debris to facilitate proper drainage around the house. Protect inlet/outlet pipes of any drains and storm water drainage against blockage from debris.
· Check the waterproofing and flashings on the roof on a regular basis.
· Install lightning rods along the outside of the house if your area is prone to lightning strikes and fit plugs with surge protection.
“If you are unfortunate and do suffer a loss, report your claim as soon as possible – bear in mind claims volumes after such catastrophic events will be high and there may be delays in getting assessments and repairs done and shortages of hire cars. There is also the annual shutdown to consider in December which may see your damages only repaired in the New Year should you suffer a loss closer to the holiday period,” says Barrett.
“Discuss your motor and household insurance with your broker to make sure you are comprehensively covered for such eventualities. The growing risks presented by our changing weather patterns demands that you review your needs in detail and get impartial and professional advice to ensure your cover meets those needs. Choice, simplicity of wording and customisation will ensure that your assets are covered correctly,” she adds.