Anniversary of historic floods in Germany: What is the best protection against flooding?
June will mark the fifth anniversary of the historic floods of 2013 that caused around €10bn worth of damage in Bavaria, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt, as well as in neighbouring countries. Following similar floods in 2002, many cities, homeowners and commercial businesses benefited from improved flood protection the second time around. Nevertheless, the 2013 floods once again highlighted a substantial insurance gap, with many people still lacking suitable cover. Although more homeowners have purchased insurance protection against flooding since then, the continued relatively low insurance density could prove risky in the future – even outside the designated flood hazard zones. Flash floods as a result of sudden torrential rain can occur virtually anywhere.
Comparing the floods of 2002 and 2013
In Regensburg too, improved mobile flood control paid dividends. Whereas in the last major flood in March 1988, the district of Stadtamhof had been completely awash, in 2013 it escaped with just small-scale flooding despite the higher water level. However, extensive dyke breaches further downstream along the Danube caused severe flooding in the area of Deggendorf.
Two aspects are noteworthy from an insurance perspective. Technical protection against flooding has improved in many flood hazard zones. In the Elbe catchment area, dykes were rebuilt or reinforced, and mobile flood barriers held back the water masses in the Elbe, Danube and Vltava. In Dresden in particular, community preventive measures proved effective. For example, over the previous few years, the municipal water authority had made extensive structural, technical and organisational changes that allowed it to reduce the level of damage by 75% compared to 2002.
Protection against flood damage – What measures help?
Uninsured losses still high
There are various reasons for the prevailing underinsurance. In the past, there was a lack of adequate insurance cover, especially in highly exposed regions. In less exposed areas there was a lower level of risk awareness, and accordingly less demand for insurance solutions, not least because the government used to assume the bulk of losses suffered by private individuals and businesses.
Joining forces for greater risk awareness
- The governments in virtually every federal state have launched extensive information campaigns. In addition, the State of Bavaria has announced that, from 1 July 2019, it will no longer provide emergency financial aid following natural disasters to victims who could have purchased insurance.
- The insurance industry has expanded its portfolio, and now offers individual insurance solutions for the “Zürs 4” flood zone, as does ERGO, Munich Re's primary insurance arm.
- The German Insurance Association (GDV) regularly updates and improves its flood zones. It is currently developing a hazard zone for flash floods.
Climate change: More torrential rainfall not necessarily driving losses
In general, more recent research expects that, as climate change continues, the number of weather events capable of producing river flooding and damage will increase in large parts of central Europe. Does this mean that flood losses will also increase sharply in the future? Not necessarily. Protective mechanisms such as dykes and early-warning systems are now extremely sophisticated and can be developed even further. Since 1980, flood losses in Europe (after adjustment for increases in value) have actually fallen.