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Cyclone Idai Tragedy, Time To Reconsider Property Insurance

A deathly whiff engulfed the atmosphere.

Not a word was uttered.

The distressed and dejected looks on the faces of men and women painted a gloomy picture of an already heart-rending situation.

By Tendai Makaripe

Some shook their heads in disbelief while others just stood motionless and speechless.

A place which they had called home for decades was reduced to a collection of gigantic boulders and rocks of all shapes and sizes.

Houses which had been erected using meagre earnings, property acquired through sweat and toil were now dumped into the dustbins of history, buried by large sarsens who now sat imposingly on the crumpled property which they had crushed.

This is not a scene plucked out of a Hollywood scripted horror movie but a real life situation that has since proven to all and sundry that life sometimes has a harsh and malevolent side that brutalises people at will, leaving a bag full of unanswered questions.

One minute, an individual seems to be in charge of his destiny but the next, everything crumbles right before him, leaving him a clueless destitute.

The writer shuddered to think what could be going through the minds of those who witnessed the fury of Cyclone Idai wreaking havoc in Chimanimani and Chipinge a few weeks ago.

Besides having to endure the agonising pain of losing family and friends in such tragic circumstances, residents of Ngangu, a township in Chimanimani and Kopa growth point in the Rusitu Valley now have to contend with sleeping in tents and relying on food handouts as everything was swept away by the cyclone.

Asking about their future plans was like thrusting a dagger onto their already bleeding hearts.

“I am clueless as to where I will go from here,” said Tafara Muzondiwa, a pensioner based in Kopa.

“This place has been my home for many years but all that is now gone. I have been turned from a home owner to a vagrant in a space of a few hours,” he added, a wave of emotion gripping him, almost drawing tears.

Putting his hands on his face as if to block tears from gushing out, he shook his head, took a deep sigh and walked away.

Ever since biblical times, disasters have been mankind’s nemesis.

One is ignorant of where or when they will strike, but when they do it is never a pleasant sight.

The world was destroyed by a flood during Noah’s time, by fire in Lot’s days, the Mediterranean island of Stroggli is believed to have been completely wiped out by a volcanic eruption and ensuing tsunami that eradicated the entire Minoan civilization around 1500 B.C.

The Aleppo earthquake of 1138 is believed to have killed about 230 000, the same number of people estimated to have been crushed by the Haiti earthquake, one of the worst earthquakes ever recorded in history which hit the Caribbean country in January 2010.

Disasters are not an everyday occurrence but are a reality which is why it is prudent for one to consider insurance cover in case of such eventualities.

Insuring one’s property can be a consolation if not a relief in times of catastrophes such as Cyclone Idai.

Mudslides and rock falls caused the destruction of almost every household and shop at Kopa growth point whereas only three houses were left in Ngangu Township.

Unfortunately, many residents affected by the cyclone had not insured their property and it has proven to be a regrettable oversight.

Marian Makaya, a widow from Ngangu whose property worth thousands of dollars was destroyed when rocks crushed her home told 263 Chat that: “If I had insured my property it was going to help me but now I have to redo everything because all has been lost. Unfortunately I cannot do anything alone because I do not have the resources so I kindly request council to assist us with places where we can stay and government to chip in and help us with reconstruction.”

The need to have property insurance defined by the property insurance Investopedia as “a policy that provides financial reimbursement to the owner or renter of a structure and its contents in the event of damage or theft…” cannot be underestimated especially considering that current statistics state that about 1 billion people are susceptible to disasters globally.

Property insurance can include homeowners insurance, renters insurance, flood insurance and earthquake insurance.

Dangers typically covered by property insurance include damage caused by fire, smoke, wind, hail, floods, lighting, theft among others.

Research has shown that between 2006 and 2015, damage caused by disasters that hit Africa cost the continent a combined US$8.1 billion while global estimates of damage by disasters skyrocketed in 2017 from US$188billion to US$306 billion.

Even though disasters are prevalent the world over, normally Africa grapples to recover more than the western countries.

For instance, Mozambique was hit by floods in 2000 which killed an estimated 700 people, displaced 60 000 and left over 500 000 in dire need of humanitarian assistance.

Analysts estimate that the economic damage of the floods reached about US$273million which is about six times the GDP of Mozambique.

However, when the 2010 earthquake hit Christchurch in New Zealand, disaster insurance covered over 81percent of the losses which ensured a quick recovery for the affected as less  burden on the government.

Speaking to 263Chat in a wide ranging interview, Insurance Council of Zimbabwe, head of operations, Nicholas Sayi bemoaned the generally low uptake of property insurance in Zimbabwe and the SADC region.

“In Zimbabwe, uptake of property insurance has been poor post dollarisation because unlike motor vehicle insurance, property insurance does not have a compulsory element so its uptake is low” said Sayi.

Analysts who spoke to this publication noted that the property insurance market in Zimbabwe as the rest of the insurance market has been experiencing lower rates of uptake from consumers regardless of efforts by the Insurance and Pensions Commission (IPEC) to increase insurance penetration to 7percent by 2022.

“The uptake of property insurance has been hampered by the current economic downturn characterised by distorted currency situation, unemployment, inflation and low capacity utilisation in the manufacturing sector. These discourage consumers from taking up insurance,” said economist Benedict Marufu.

Marufu also added that: “The proliferation of false insurance agents hoodwinking potential policy holders has contributed to some not taking up insurance policies. However, ICZ last year set up an independent bureau to assist the industry investigate such crimes and one hopes this will remove scepticism regarding insurance policies.”

Sayi concurred with Marufu opining that low uptake can also be attributed to low disposable income of the citizenry but was quick to note that “in terms of pricing, property insurance is competitively priced and a lot cheaper than what many people assume. It is therefore wise to spare a few dollars towards it because it is very helpful in the end especially when disasters like Cyclone Idai strike.”

The idea of embracing insurance that covers one’s property after disasters can be traced to renowned academic, Howard Kunreuther who has a long standing interest in ways that society can better manage low-probability / high consequence events related to technological and natural disasters.

In his writings he argues that insurance is a patent tool that can one can use to mitigate disasters through securing funds for disaster victims adding that insurance secures resources for pressing challenges and ensure faster recovery for those affected.

If scholars from the western world which is economically stable than sub Saharan Africa are advocating for property insurance in cases of disasters, is it not high time for those in this part of the world to seriously consider insuring their belongings for we do not know neither the day nor the hour when a disaster knocks at our doors.


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