Australia is in the midst of a bushfire crisis that will affect local communities for years, if not permanently, due to a national crisis of underinsurance.
Already more than 1,500 homes have been destroyed – with months still to go in the bushfire season. Compare this to 2009, when Victoria’s “Black Saturday” fires claimed more than 2,000 homes in February, or 1983, when the “Ash Wednesday” fires destroyed about 2,400 homes in Victoria and South Australia, also in February.
The 2020 fire season could end up surpassing these tragedies, despite the lessons learned and improvements in preparedness.
One lesson not really learned, though, is that home insurance is rarely sufficient to enable recovery. The evidence is many people losing their homes will find themselves unable to rebuild, due to lack of insurance.
We know this from interviews with those affected by the October 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires (in which almost 200 homes were destroyed). Despite past disasters, more than 65% of households affected were underinsured.
Research published by the Victorian government in 2017, meanwhile, estimated just 46% Victorian households have enough insurance to recover from a disaster, with 28% underinsured and 26% having no insurance.
The consequences aren’t just personal. They potentially harm local communities permanently, as those unable to rebuild move away. Communities lose the vital knowledge and social networks that make them resilient to disaster.