Do flood insurance schemes in developing countries provide incentives to reduce physical risks?

Produced as part of the The Munich Re programme: evaluating the economics of climate risks and opportunities in the insurance sector CCCEP research programme theme

Also known as Munich Re Technical Paper: 18


Risk transfer, including insurance, is widely recognised as a tool for increasing financial resilience to severe weather events, such as floods. The application of this mechanism varies widely across countries, with a range of different types and schemes in operation.

While most of the analytical focus has so far been on those markets that have a long tradition of insurance, there is still a clear gap in our understanding of how this mechanism works in a developing country context.

This paper assesses 27 insurance schemes that transfer the risk of economic losses arising from floods in low and middle income countries, focusing on the linkages between financial risk transfer and risk reduction. This aspect is important to avoid the effect or moral hazard and has gained particular relevance in the context of the climate change adaptation discourse, where some scholars and practitioners view insurance as a potential tool not just for current risks, but also to address projected future impacts of a changing climate by incentivising risk reduction.

We therefore look beyond the pure financial risk transfer element of those 27 insurance schemes and investigate any prevention and risk reduction initiatives.

Our analysis suggests that the potential for utilising risk transfer for risk reduction is far from exhausted, with only very few schemes showing an operational link between risk transfer and risk reduction, while the effectiveness and implementation on the ground remains unclear.

The dearth of linkages between risk reduction and insurance is a missed opportunity in the efforts to address rising risk levels, particularly in the context of climate change. Rising risk levels pose a threat to the insurability of floods, and insurance without risk reduction elements could lead to moral hazard. Therefore a closer linkage between risk transfer and risk reduction could make this a more sustainable and robust tool.

Swenja Surminski and Delioma Oramas-Dorta