Managing flood risk on a global scale

PART five OF OUR 10TH ANNIVERSARY INTERVIEW SERIES

As floods continue to wreak havoc globally, catastrophe modelling experts JBA Risk Management are helping to close the protection gap, says Dr Iain Willis, Managing Director of JBA Risk Management, Singapore.

Four years ago I stood in a small village that lies within the banks of the Kelani River, Colombo.

The homeowner, Premalal, a welder by trade, was pointing to the lintel above the front door of his single storey property. “This is where the flood came to. I had to sit on the roof for several hours until the water receded.”

Premalal’s home, like those of his neighbours in the same village, was flooded during the devastating 2016 floods in Sri Lanka.

I don’t think any of us truly understand the daily fear that so many people like Premalal face around the world every day.

Thankfully for Premalal, the government helped provide a disaster relief payment in the days that followed to help get his small business back on its feet.

Others in the world are not so fortunate.

Devastating floods are a regular occurrence now and all too often these events have their greatest impact in parts of the world with the least financial protection.

There is a huge protection gap between the economic and insured losses we see happen.

Currently, it’s estimated that only 1.1% of the population in emerging Asian markets has property insurance, with that figure even lower in countries such as India, the Philippines, and Indonesia (Munich Re, 2018). For some context, UK flood insurance penetration is around 95-98% (Flood Re, 2016).

Our maps, models, and experience in this field can help play a part in reducing this gap.

Often it is about providing the necessary data and insight to support countries trying to transition that burden of financial loss from the state via various forms of risk transfer.

JBA’s global flood modelling has allowed us to really broaden the horizons of where we can now provide our expertise. We are working on a host of international programmes, including projects in Europe, Central and South-East Asia, Africa and South America.

These involve helping governments set up schemes that ensure rapid or early pay outs in those areas where it’s needed most. Many have parametric triggers, based on the number of people affected or flood levels.

For example, in the Indus river basin in Pakistan, we have been working alongside international development agencies where our flood data helps in forecasting estimated impacted populations. This has resulted in the setup of a scheme which triggers early disaster relief payments to be made to those who most need it during that critical time.

Similarly, working with the Oasis Loss Modelling Framework, we’ve been able to make some flood models freely available to governments for disaster financing.

This included a project recently working alongside academic institutions, industry partners and the Bangladesh government. A similar project is underway in Peru where JBA are part of an Insurance Development Forum (public-private consortium) project aimed at utilising our flood model to help model insurance protection for public schools across the country.

Whether it’s the global probabilistic (CAT) flood models or hazard maps, it’s pleasing to see that we can provide insight through every stage of a disaster; from mitigation and preparedness to response and recovery.

Good examples of this include the development of 5m x 5m resolution flash flood maps for Kuala Lumpur (used by the city council - DBKL) and our work with the South Australian State Government to help with disaster response and flood planning.

I’m lucky enough to see the variety of ways in which our data and services makes a lasting difference to flood risk management programmes around the world.

Whether it’s helping government schemes like those that provided assistance to Premalal, or else working alongside our international development partners to help advise a new Minister of Finance where and how their flood defence budget should best be spent to maximise resilience efforts.

I do believe that the more we can do to widen the understanding of global flood risk, the better the decision making and the greater we’ll be prepared to handle the floods of tomorrow.

This is part five of a series of interviews with the JBA team over the coming weeks. Read the rest of the series here.

For more information on JBA's work, get in touch with the team using the form below.

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