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The Emerging Markets Protection Gap

This is the second blog in a series of four blogs examining three potential “protection gaps” and the importance of “protection gap analytics”. To read the first blog post in this series, click here.

Year-by-year, we can check to see if the gap between insured and economic disaster losses in emerging economies is starting to shrink. The gap remains resolutely stuck in the range 80 to 100 percent uninsured. Even a 90 percent average flatters the proportion, as coverage is concentrated in high value hotels, factories and central business districts whereas almost all ordinary houses are without insurance.

We should not be surprised how the emerging markets gap stays so wide.

See what happened in Japan. Unregulated mass rebuilding after the war led to a rising toll of flood disasters. In one single year in the 1950s, more than a million properties were flooded. Then in 1959 there was Typhoon Vera and the Ise Bay storm surge flood catastrophe in which more than 5,000 died. In 1960 the Government declared the level of risk to be intolerable and directed that seven to eight percent of government expenditure should be invested in funding disaster risk reduction. The annual investment proved successful and by the 1980s the annual number of houses flooded had reduced to only three percent of its 1950s level.

For any emerging economy the question can be asked: when did the nation reach the equivalent of Japan in 1960 and start to invest in disaster risk reduction. China passed the point of “intolerable disaster risk” towards the end of the 1990s, while India is undergoing that transition today. This is not just investment in physical disaster risk reduction, but also good risk governance and education.

Insurance is a product of this disaster risk management culture.

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The Politics of Basis Risk

Imagine you are a government minister responsible for disaster response. Five days have passed since the hurricane hit your country, and the floods have still not receded. Tens of thousands of your citizens have been made homeless. In the eyes of the people, the government is simply moving too slowly, and the press is baying for action. There is some reassurance though, as you know that over many years your country has paid premium into an international pooling scheme designed to provide substantial funds quickly when such a disaster strikes, to help pay some of the costs of recovery.

But then you hear from the regional multi-state insurance pool to which your finance minister has been contributing hard-fought annual premiums for the past decade. Your country is not going to receive a pay-out. In the scheme’s parametric formula, the value is below the threshold. You have discovered the toxic politics of basis risk.

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