Cedric Stephens | Floods as a business risk | Business


The French Geological Society (BSGF) published a research study in 2013 on flooding in Port Maria, St Mary. I found a snippet of it by looking for articles in local newspapers about this month’s flood.

Professor Michael Taylor, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology, who co-leads the Mona Campus Climate Studies Group at the University of the West Indies, gave me the impetus to add my two cents. to today’s conversation article. The provocative headline of his op-ed, “Fighting Floods: We Can’t Keep Doing the Same Way” – with its implied subtext “and expecting a different outcome” – has caught my attention.

Climate risks dominate global concerns, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2022. climate change – i.e. more intense and frequent hurricanes, floods, erratic rainfall and droughts” in its risk matrix. Fund staff rated the structural and country risks associated with these events in an appendix to the report as medium and high, respectively. The latter was described as having the potential to cause “serious damage to infrastructure and agriculture”.

With the exception of Professor Taylor’s article, none of the newspaper articles examined the February 1 incident of this year in the context of climate change. Do our journalists not recognize the link?


One of the articles in the Jamaica Observer spoke of the inability of most economic operators in Port Maria to obtain insurance against loss or damage caused by flooding. The professor, on the other hand, widened the discussion to include further flooding in New Haven, St Andrew on August 21, 2021, and in Montego Bay three months later. He also offered prescriptions to reduce the risk.

The summary of the OSGF report, although it focused on Port Maria nearly a decade ago, has provided insight into why business owners and operators and households in this and other prone areas to flooding are facing insurance supply problems. Many of Jamaica’s major coastal towns in low lying areas near rivers are likely to suffer the same fate as Port Maria. The town is also located in a parish in a “heavy rain zone”.

Flash flooding, caused by extreme rainfall, is one of the major natural disasters affecting Jamaica and other small island states in the Caribbean, according to the newspaper.

Geological society officers analyzed the extreme rainfall event that occurred on November 23-24, 2006. This incident occurred as the hurricane season was ending. The study showed that the floods exceeded the 30-year annual rainfall in this region and the 100-year return period calculated from 30-year rainfall data for Jamaica.

The probability of events such as floods or other natural disasters occurring is usually expressed as a return period. For example, the return period of a flood may be 100 years. This is otherwise expressed as its probability of occurring being 1/100, or one percent over the course of a year.

None of the authors of the February 2022 event used a similar criterion to measure the probability of the most recent flood.

According to the summary, the Port Maria River “does not have a gauging station to monitor flow data and peak flood flows. The city continues to be inundated with intense short-lived rains that continue to affect life and property.

Floodplain maps exist for the largest watersheds on the island, but the smaller, but flood-prone, ones have not been mapped so far. It therefore becomes very important to create a floodplain map showing the extent of rainfall runoff in relation to buildings and other infrastructure in the area.


The present work aims to create a spatial distribution map of runoff from rainfall measurements helping to develop a no-build zone for this area and other low-lying coastal areas of Jamaica.

From the photograph that accompanies Professor Taylor’s article, it appears authorities have done very little to mitigate the risk of flooding in recent years. What would have been the situation if the February flooding in Port Maria had occurred during hurricane season? What happens if two or more hurricanes affect the region during the same season?

Professor Taylor offered six practical ideas for solving the flooding problem using the Port Maria event as a reference. I look forward to hearing from the authorities – especially those who have portfolio responsibility for climate change – in the upcoming budget debate on their action plan to mitigate flooding in fiscal year 2022. -23.

Many people are unaware that while flood insurance in Jamaica is offered by private insurance companies, a similar situation does not exist in the United States. Flood loss insurance is provided by a US government agency, the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Administration. The protection it offers is delivered to the public by a network of more than 50 insurance companies and NFIP Direct.

Property insurance policies provided by private carriers generally exclude flood damage. The insurance offer in Port Maria should be seen in this context. Obviously, I’m not authorized to speak on behalf of insurers, but if asked to guess, I would predict that the supply of flood insurance for the island’s coastal towns is expected to decline further over the next few years. .

What impact this is likely to have on the tourism industry is an open question given the likelihood of sea level rise.

Cedric E. Stephens provides independent information and advice on risk and insurance management. For free information or advice, write to [email protected] or [email protected]


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