Insurance Exclusion to Thump Mariental

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK If your car is washed away by floodwater while driving in the vicinity of the Hardap Dam, lower Fish River or its tributaries you can kiss both your car and your money goodbye, because you will not be covered by insurance. The news that even travellers will not be covered by flood insurance in future is likely to come as a shock to most people. Many people still think only residents of Mariental and the Fish River Valley are affected by the recent decision by insurance companies to cancel all flood insurance for the area. In addition, some people are still under the illusion that the insurance flood exclusion clauses only affect the flood-prone part of Mariental – west of the railway line. This seems to include Regional Governor Katrina Hanse, who recently suggested residents west of the railway line should move to the eastern part of the town. The reality is that the insurance exclusion not only affects people just passing through Mariental, but property anywhere in the town and the entire area in the Fish River Valley. Chairperson of the Namibia Insurance Association (NIA) Gerson Katjimune recently confirmed this, saying the public were informed of the changes some time ago. NIA placed advertisements in the media in early August announcing insurance policies would be endorsed with the new exclusion clause, which came into effect on October 1. The endorsement is however phrased in such obscure language that most members of the public are probably unaware of its full implications. The confirmation that even travellers will not be covered by insurance in the case of floods is another devastating blow for the hard-hit town. The news is likely to have a very negative impact on tourism to the area during the rainy season, with many tourists unlikely to want to risk their property. Tourism to the Fish River canyon is a major part of the local economy, with many tourists travelling there in their own vehicles. Those businesspeople that understand the real meaning of the insurance exclusion do not even want to talk about it, fearing it will harm the town even further. “It will make people even more negative about the town and ruin the economy even more. Who is going to overnight at Ai-Ais if they know their vehicle is not insured,” said one businessperson on condition of anonymity. Mariental was almost on the brink of collapse after suffering what was described as the town’s worst floods in living memory in February this year. The floods caused widespread property damage resulting in over N$100 million in insurance claims, and business in the town came to a virtual standstill. The town has still not recovered from the trauma of the floods, and the problem with insurance makes it almost impossible to revive the local economy. Some estimate property values may have plummeted as much as 95%, and are unlikely to recover until the insurance fiasco is resolved. Other sources in the town however say it is impossible to gauge the effect on property values since the property market died overnight, and virtually no property is changing hands. One resident approached one of the banks for a home loan just to test its reaction. He says the bank official he spoke to laughed at him, asking: “If you can’t insure it, how are you going to finance it?” He said the only bank that has so far apparently indicated it might even consider insuring properties east of the railway line against flood damage is Bank Windhoek, but he had not confirmed this. Moving east of the railway line, as Governor Hanse has suggested, may save people from flooding, but will not likely change the fact that property value will be far below what it was. One resident said trucking companies will probably instruct their drivers travelling to and from South Africa to rather overnight in other towns. This means they will not be spending money on fuel or other goods in Mariental, further depressing the local economy.