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Managing the Impact of La Niña

Updated: Apr 14, 2022

Coping with flood and loss in a disrupted climate

By: Lizo Mnguni

La Niña, a global weather phenomenon, has wreaked havoc across the country, bringing higher than expected rainfall – and floods – to Gauteng, Central South Africa, Kwa-Zulu Natal and other parts of the country. It is expected to continue bringing disruptive rain for the rest of the summer and into autumn.

“A wetter prolonged period means that insurers and homeowners alike are wondering how to best manage risk in 2022,” says Lizo Mnguni, spokesperson for Old Mutual Insure.

While La Niña has been cited as a global weather phenomenon, it is happening against the backdrop of climate change, which is touted to bring catastrophic consequences with it, including increased levels of drought, heightened risk of mudslides, and an exacerbated fire season.

“This can lead to higher and more volatile weather-related insurance claims,” says Mnguni. “In fact, the impact of changing weather patterns like La Niña or El Niño has already seen a steady rise in the number and quantum of household claims paid by Old Mutual Insure in recent times as homeowners across the country dealt with fire, wind and water damage.”

In response, South African homeowners are asking whether they can insure themselves against the increased risk associated with changing weather patterns.

The answer is yes, says Mnguni, however he believes homeowners should work with insurance companies to reduce their risk, “firstly by familiarising themselves with the dangers associated with changing weather patterns and extreme weather events, and then by taking action to help mitigate the worst effects of the current La Niña conditions on their policy provisions, buildings and contents.”

He says it is important for homeowners and policyholders to work with their brokers or insurers to ensure there is adequate cover in place for floods, which is can sometimes be excluded by certain wordings.

“Assess and update the sum insured if it is not enough, as being underinsured if there is increased risk is a major reason why many policyholders end up being out of pocket,” says Mnguni, adding that it is important to review the sum insured in conjunction with limits for the removal of debris because heavy rainfall could result in localised flooding, and wind may result in damage to your home or buildings.

Mnguni adds that implementing measures to deliberately retard the destructive potential of water and wind during current El Niña conditions will go a long way towards helping homeowners prevent damage before it happens.

Below are his top tips to property owners can take to minimise the chance of losses occurring during changing weather patterns:

Assess your property for water flow

  • Homeowners should help water flow through or away from their property, harmlessly. Keep drains and gutters clear and create ditches and slopes to move flood water away from your buildings.

  • Alternately, raise driveway humps or keep sandbags handy to quickly block entrances in the event of flooding.

  • Keep higher value items at higher levels.

  • Ensure maintenance of municipal drains if it impacts your property.

  • Check long-term flood level projections with your municipal town planners or surveyors.

Becoming more wind wise

  • Keep trees and foliage well away from your home.

  • Lose tiles, flapping zinc sheets, rotting facia boards, or even poorly underpinned walls can become lethal in high winds.

  • Check that overhead wiring and the electrical mains supply to your home are properly secured and can’t harm people should they be detached by wind.

  • If you live in a tornado zone, have a secure place, ideally underground, that your family can gather during extreme wind events.

“Remember, as the famous anecdote goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Preparing for the worst will also help insurers keep premiums affordable without passing the costs of climate change and extreme weather on to South African homeowners,” concludes Mnguni.


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