Three Things to Know About the Germany Flooding

July 19, 2021 | 11:41am CT | 4:41pm GMT

  1. The flooding has been severe and is likely to continue over the next few days
    • Severe flooding from July 12-15 resulted in the loss of 188 lives as of July 19 and catastrophic damage in western German states (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) and has impacted surrounding countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. 
    • Rainfall continues to impact some of the affected regions, and water run-off is expected to produce elevated risk for the region for the next few days.
  1. Early indications point to flood damages in the tens of billions in Euros
    • Germany experienced large and deadly floods in 2002, 2013, and 2016, but the 2021 floods are the deadliest in recent years. According to The Geneva Association, damages from the 2002 and 2013 floods exceeded €10 billion, while the 2016 floods caused damage in the low Euro billions. Private insurance covered a large fraction of the damages from these events. Early analysis indicates this year’s flood losses may be comparable to the 2013 event.
    • Tributaries of the Rhine and Mosel rivers are most heavily impacted by the floods of 2021. The floods are impacting flood basins in Germany that have not seen large flood losses in the last two decades as the floods of 2002, 2013 and 2016 impacted eastern and southern Germany (and neighboring countries).
  1. Areas surrounding the Rhine River are facing extended recovery times and disruption to critical transportation infrastructure
    • In Germany, flood insurance coverage is voluntary, provided by the private market as supplementary cover to standard policies. Penetration rates differ across regions for historical reasons.
    • Many communities are suffering from devastating losses of life, housing and infrastructure. Some communities may require extensive time to recover — from months to years.
    • The region flooded by this event can be generally defined as the Rhine River catchment. The most recent previous floods along this catchment were in 1993 and 1995, with damage for each event at that time estimated to be below Euro 1 billion according to The Geneva Association. Thirty years of development and urban growth along with parallel improvements in the insurance market make it difficult to estimate loss equivalents for today, but a recurrence of these floods would certainly cause significant losses.
    • The Rhine River represents critical transportation infrastructure for Germany, with flows of fuels and goods to and from Germany’s advanced manufacturing heartlands in the south via cargo barges on the Rhine. Most of the flooding has occurred on Rhine tributaries, but debris flows are expected to impair traffic on this arterial for some time. Impaired commercial barge traffic on the Rhine has the potential to broaden the floods’ effects beyond the immediately damaged zones. Past Rhine River flooding has been associated with winter storms and early snow melt (December through March) as this catchment extends to the base of the European Alps. The occurrence of mid-summer flooding on this catchment is anomalous and will certainly continue to be a discussion point as we seek to better understand climate change effects upon riverine flooding.

Increasing global temperatures and climate change introduce a challenge to our communities — future rainfall patterns and flood catastrophe occurrences may not look like past events. Risk modeling based upon the latest science and risk evaluations help us anticipate future catastrophe losses, providing guidance to help avoid surprises that can undermine our goals for the preservation of families and communities.

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