Small Villages Hit Hardest by Italian Earthquake

A strong 6.2 magnitude earthquake that stuck Central Italy in the early morning hours of Aug. 24 has caused about 250 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The temblor stuck 10km (6.2 miles) southeast of Norcia and 100km (62.13 miles) northeast of Rome. Areas with the most damage are smaller, older towns consisting of unreinforced masonry buildings. One such town was Amatrice, which the town’s mayor has said “no longer exists.”

Dozens of aftershocks have since occurred in the area—the strongest a magnitude 5.5. Because it was a shallow quake, occurring about six miles below the surface, it was more destructive, the New York Times reported.
Italy map

Map: USGS.gov

The vicinity of Wednesday’s temblor has also experienced significant earthquakes in the past, including one with a magnitude of 6.3 near the town of L’Aquila in 2009. According to the Times. That quake killed at least 295 people, injured more than 1,000 and left 55,000 homeless. Bloomberg reported that only about 2% of the economic loss from the 2009 quake was insured.

Catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide said that Italy’s nonlife insurance market is the eighth-largest in the world and the fifth largest in Europe, and its property insurance market is the second-largest nonlife market in the country after automobile. Earthquake coverage, however, is often not included in standard homeowners’ policies and is typically issued as an extension of fire policies. Earthquake coverage for industrial and commercial structures may be offered for an additional premium, which varies by region.

Fitch Ratings said on Aug. 26 that it expects to see limited impact on Italian insurers. According to Fitch:

We estimate insured losses of EUR100 million-EUR200 million, arising mainly from property lines. Our estimate reflects the low density of population and businesses and limited insurance coverage in the region. Claims of this magnitude would not have a material impact on Italian insurers’ underwriting results or credit profiles. Italian non-life insurers wrote EUR2.3 billion of gross written premiums of property insurance in 2015.

Italy has declared a state of emergency in the region hit by the earthquake and the government has pledged EUR50 million for first aid. The declaration of a state of emergency means that certain losses will be covered by a state fund for emergencies, limiting losses for insurers.

We expect the insured losses to be EUR40 million-EUR80 million for primary insurers and EUR60 million-EUR120 million for reinsurers. A similar event that struck a nearby area in 2009, where the insurance exposure was higher, caused insured losses of around EUR250 million.

Proposal Would Increase Earthquake Coverage in CA

Surprisingly, only about 12% of insured households in California currently have earthquake insurance. For such an quake-prone area, 12% is just not enough and, luckily, a new initiative may provide a sharp increase in the number of households with coverage against such catastrophes.

According to a RAND Corporation study, a proposal for the federal government to support state-run catastrophe insurance programs would increase the number of people buying earthquake coverage in California. The plan would also lower both uninsured losses and government assistance following a major quake. The four main tenents of the Catastrophe Obligation Guarantee Act (COGA) are:

  • lower insurance costs
  • more households with earthquake insurance coverage
  • decrease in uninsured losses
  • decrease in demand for federal disaster assistance

The RAND Corporation’s study estimates that lower premiums will produce a 13.2% increase in the purchase of earthquake insurance from the California Earthquake Authority, the privately-funded organization that provides earthquake insurance to the state’s residents.

“While catastrophe obligation guarantees could substantially reduce earthquake insurance costs in California, they would ultimately have a modest effect on decreasing uninsured losses and reducing the amount of disaster assistance spending.” said Tom LaTourrette, lead author of the study and a senior physical scientist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

So, though the study predicts an increase in the purchase of earthquake insurance, a substantial portion of earthquake losses are expected to fall below policy deductibles. Thus, an increase in coverage would translate to “less than a 1% increase” in the amount of losses that would be reimbursed. So while COGA is expected to decrease the amount of uninsured losses after a California quake, it is not a total solution. The study suggests that officials consider other avenues for increasing earthquake insurance coverage, such as public education and marketing and new, more attractive earthquake insurance products.