7 Aug 2015

Get used to stormy weather - insurers

9:16 pm on 7 August 2015

Weather-related events have cost insurers close to $100 million so far this year, and New Zealanders are being told to get used to it.

Civil Defence Welfare Centre sign in Whanganui

Flooding in the lower North Island and South Island in June cost insurers $44 million. Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

The Insurance Council said the extensive flooding in the lower North Island and West Coast of the South Island in June cost insurers $44 million.

Provisional figures show the damage in Whanganui, Taranaki, Wairarapa and Horowhenua cost $36.8 million and that on the West Coast $7.5 million.

The council's chief executive, Tim Grafton, said such weather events were something people need to get used to and be prepared for.

"The vast majority of the science says that we are going to get wetter, stormier conditions in the west of the country, so if you are in a part of the country that currently experiences flooding and storm damage then that is likely to increase in the future."

The flooded kura kaupapa in Whanganui

A flooded kura kaupapa in Whanganui in June Photo: SUPPLIED / Facebook

The lower North Island floods resulted in 600 domestic claims worth more than $23 million and nearly 600 commercial and business interruption claims costing more than $11 million.

The remainder of claims was largely for motor vehicles, which cost more than $1.3 million.

The other major weather events this year were the Otago floods in early June which cost insurers about $28.6 million and the Kapiti Coast floods in May, which cost $16.5 million.

Mr Grafton said the cost to the industry of weather events so far this year was substantial, but not out of the ordinary.

"There are still a few months to go and these are provisional figures but by comparison with last year we had about $150 million of insured costs arising from extreme weather events and the maximum we've experienced is around about $175 million."

Mr Grafton said the figure would not alarm the sector.

"The insurance is there and the industry is well prepared to absorb these kinds of cost. Insurers absorbed the costs of the Canterbury earthquakes which were billions of dollars more than this."

The full cost to the insurance sector will be more than $44 million as a substantial amount of council infrastructure damage will be underwritten through offshore insurance arrangements.

Exposure to natural disasters

Mr Grafton said private citizens in New Zealand had a high level of insurance cover but there were always some people caught out in events such as those in June.

"Anecdotally, there were stories about people, particularly in South Taranaki, where there were levels of under insurance - or non-insurance we suspect.

"And in rural areas the farm dwelling will be insured but damage to land won't be insured. So if you have washouts and landslips out on the farm, those will be losses that aren't insured."

Mr Grafton said, for an economy of its size, New Zealand was one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters.

He said the Insurance Council had produced a 15-point plan to protect New Zealand from natural hazards.

"[The] research underlines the need to take these risks seriously."

He said 64 percent of New Zealanders agreed central and local government needed to actively plan and increase funding for initiatives to reduce and prevent damage from natural hazards before they occurred.

"The research found that 71 percent of Kiwis do not think that New Zealand is well prepared to minimise the economic and social costs of natural hazards."

The Insurance Council said the final claims figures for June would be known in early October.

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