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Is sub-prime suspect?

Most of us have watched in horror at the situation in New Orleans and the time it took for the relief effort following Hurricane Katrina. That would never happen in the UK, we may think. But would it?

Hurricanes are not a way of life in the UK but extreme weather conditions are becoming common. Remember the storms of 1997 and 1990 which cost insurers billions of pounds and more recently the tornado that hit Birmingham? Rising sea levels and storm-surge heights, increasing seasonal rainfall and intensity are all growing problems.

Climate change has become a priority for the UK Government. The Association of British Insurers believes that climate change could increase the annual cost of flooding in the UK almost 15-fold by 2080.

As the weather becomes more volatile, this will affect the cost of insurance. In New Orleans, insurers estimate that insured losses will be between $35bn to $40bn.

How does this affect us? Many UK insurers have exposure in the region and will have to recoup their losses elsewhere which means higher premiums for customers. It isn’t just those living in affected areas who bear the brunt of the cost of weather damage but the wider economy.

In those areas in the UK where the risk of flooding is seen as being just too great, insurance companies may refuse cover or the cost may be so high that no one can afford it. Mortgage lenders will not lend on such a property and those homes will become beyond anyone’s reach.

After 9/11, property insurance firms took a $20bn hit. Yet Katrina is likely to be the costliest catastrophe in insurance history. If the UK can learn anything from the tragedy in the US it is that prevention is vital. The Government must take the lead by limiting carbon emissions to reduce the effects of climate change and continue its commitment to coastal and flood defences.

There is a shortage in housing but controlling development on flood plains is a must to ensure that flooding does not become more of a problem.

The smaller picture is important. Many people have paved over their front gardens to create a driveway and the cumulative impact has been considerable. Local temperatures have risen and the environment is dirtier and the extra pressure on drains has increased the risk of flooding.

Individuals also have a role to play. As well as considering the environmental impact their lives have, it is important to ensure they have adequate cover for their homes and possessions. Lenders or brokers can point out the risks but it is up to the individual to take responsibility for protecting their home and family.

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