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FLOODING in Malaysia has displaced more than 40,000 people, according to the country’s disaster agency. Reports revealed at least one fatality in every 10 missing persons. As of December 20, many rivers were above the danger level in Pahang, Selangor and Kelantan. The magnitude of disaster is not determined by floodwater alone but also by the pattern of vulnerability in which people live. The lives and livelihoods of many poor people are hardest hit by flood disasters.
Arguably, of all the disasters in Malaysia, floods are most frequent and bring the greatest damage annually. In 1996, floods brought by Tropical Storm Greg in Keningau, claimed 241 lives, caused more than RM300 million damage to infrastructure and property and destroyed a few thousand houses. The December 2006 floods in Johor caused 18 deaths and RM1.5 billion in damage. In 2008, floods occurred in Johor again, killing 28 people and causing damage estimated at RM65 million.
With the government providing an allocation of RM200 million to address the impact of the current flood event, it is noticeable that flood disaster management in Malaysia has been over-focused on a top-down, government-centric approach. This has worked in the past when population was sparse and when the public largely made up of lowly educated citizens. It is time for a radical change towards a more “bottom up/risk spreading” approach.
Given the perceivably high-level exposure to flood risk (and actual losses from flooding), flood insurance is undeniably one of the most crucial risk transfer tools that can make an important contribution to the financial management of flood risk by spreading the risk across domestic and international (re)insurance and capital markets and reducing the share of losses absorbed by households, businesses and governments.
However, according to a study conducted by Zurich Malaysia, nearly 74% of homeowners in Malaysia are not covered against flood risk although the Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) believes that 4.8 million people nationwide live in flood-prone areas. This means that only two in 10 households in flood-prone areas are insured. The statistics tells that there are underlying challenges faced by private insurer attempting to introduce flood insurance in Malaysia. The low penetration rate is the most important reason why flood insurance is not broadly available, notwithstanding the challenge to model an actuarially sound insurance premiums that are affordable for households.
This leads to significant underinsurance of flood risk and leaves governments with difficult decisions on how to best protect vulnerable populations without exacerbating moral hazard or reducing households’ incentive to reduce their risk. These challenges have led to identifying the appropriate role of government in supporting financial protection against flood risk, and where government intervention is necessary, the most efficient and effective approach.