New study: Rising property damage from soil subsidence

A new loss model developed by Swiss Re and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) highlights the impact of climate change on local soil conditions and the expected damage to properties across Europe.

Over the past two decades, European countries have seen a marked increase in damage to buildings from soil movements. In France alone, subsidence-induced losses have risen by over 50% since 1990, amounting to an average of EUR 340 million a year. The risks from drought and shifting soil are likely to rise even more as the trend towards drier weather continues, according to a new loss model designed by Swiss Re and ETH Zurich.

These and other findings are featured in Swiss Re’s new report “The hidden risks of climate change” (PDF), the third in a series of publications on climate risks in Europe. The study shows that the potential for property damage from soil subsidence is not only increasing significantly, but it is also spreading to new geographic regions across the continent.

According to the authors, “Many communities in these regions have in the past undertaken efforts to reduce their exposure to shifting soil by taking potential land movements into account when planning and designing buildings. But in recent decades, climate change has led to a dramatic – and often unforeseen – rise in soil subsidence risks.”

Communities exposed to higher levels of risk will therefore have to adapt by investing in a combination of risk prevention and risk transfer measures, including insurance. Such efforts must take long-term climate patterns into account and closely involve local planning authorities, building contractors, regulators and insurance and reinsurance companies in coming up with appropriate solutions.

Published 4 July 2011

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