Without a doubt, the last thing on the minds of the Nepalese people in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck the country on Saturday 25th April is going to be insurance. As the operation to find human survivors and remains continues, the loss of and damage to homes is understandably a secondary consideration, but a real consideration nonetheless.
The reality for the survivors, is that without the financial means to quickly replace the roofs over their heads in the coming months, the suffering will continue.
Let’s take a closer look at Nepal and while doing so, draw comparisons with our own island, Jamaica. Why? Because, Jamaica is also in a high earthquake risk zone, sitting on a fault line within the Caribbean Plate. More specifically, the island is situated along the same seismically active plate boundary as Haiti and experiences about 200 earthquakes per year (though most of them are small).
Earthquakes typically occur along fault lines, areas where two sections of the Earth’s crust grind past each other. When decades of centuries of accumulated stress become too great at a fault boundary, the land gives way, causing a quake. Now you see why we should pay closer attention to the happenings in Nepal?
A LITTLE GEOGRAPHY
Nepal is a country that is landlocked (surrounded by land on all sides) by China to the North and India to the South, West and East. It has a total population of 27 Million, with its capital, Kathmandu, being home to 1.3M people. Like Jamaica, tourism is its most important industry, with it boasting one of the highest mountains in its Himalayan range (Everest). Approximately 800 people were at different stages of climbing the popular mountain, when the quake started avalanches of snow and rocks in a place called ‘the roof of the world’
You may not be aware, but in 2013, a U.S. seismic expert, Professor Eric Calais (who had warned Haiti of a sizable earthquake threat two years before the 2010 disaster), urged authorities in Jamaica to start long-term efforts to prepare for another major earthquake on the island. It could be days or decades, the professor warned, but the threat is very real based on the area’s history and active seismic activity.
The experts predict that Jamaica is exposed to a quake with a magnitude of 7 or 7.5 (Nepal was 7.8). An earthquake of magnitude 7 on the Richter scale is considered “major,” and capable of widespread, heavy damage. Kingston was destroyed and roughly 1,000 people killed in a 6.5-magnitude quake in 1907. Before that in Port Royal, just outside of Kingston, which was the island’s main city in the 17th century, an earthquake and tsunami submerged two-thirds of the settlement in 1692.
BACK TO INSURANCE
As was said earlier, the thought of insurance after such a devastating event will not be uppermost in the minds of the people of Nepal. What has been witnessed, however, is a rush in neighbouring countries to effect insurance policies to cover properties. In MUMBAI (formerly Bombay), the most highly populated place in India, phones are ringing off the hook at insurance companies and page views have surged at websites offering policies to cover homes and their contents. While property insurance cannot save lives, it can provide a financial life-line when your home buildings is reduced to rubble and your contents destroyed.
Back home in Jamaica, in spite of the clear exposure to both earthquake and hurricanes, many still take the risk of not insuring their properties. High premiums are cited as the main reason for persons ‘self-insuring’, but the cost of having to rebuild a property from scratch, out of pocket, can be far more daunting than a proportionate annual premium. We must each ask, “can I afford to take the risk?”
Our hearts and thoughts must continue to go out to the people of Nepal.
There, but for the grace of God, go you or I.