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WARSAW, Poland-Polish insurers face estimated losses of 1 billion zlotys ($289.6 million) in the wake of floods that have devastated the southwest portion of the country.
The losses are an initial estimate from the Polish government insurance regulator, Panstwowy Urzad Nadzoru Ubezpieczen, based on weekly and sometimes daily reports from insurance companies, said PUNU Director Danuta Walcerz.
"We won't know what the final figure will be until the water recedes. At the moment, the areas are still flooded," Ms. Walcerz said last week.
Meanwhile, the floods have spread to Germany, where dikes and flood control measures on the Oder River were demolished.
The losses have prompted the Polish government to review insurer solvency requirements, and the insurance industry has suggested that Poland in the future provide government-backed catastrophe reinsurance.
Munich Reinsurance Co. has estimated that total insured losses in Poland from the floods could be 300 million deutsche marks ($164.4 million), while those in the Czech Republic may be 1.2 billion deutsche marks ($657.7 million).
However, the Czech insurance companies have yet to publish their own estimates, said a spokeswoman for the country's largest insurer, Ceska Pojistovna.
Munich Re also has estimated 300 million deutsche marks in potential insured losses after the flooding in Austria. "But these were expected; it happens every year in the Alps," a Munich Re spokesman said.
Munich Re's own losses from reinsurance coverage it has written are expected to be "in the tens of millions of deutsche marks," the spokesman said.
He said the company could not estimate potential losses in Germany."It has only just begun here," he said.
In Poland, the three insurance companies that control about 80% of the market cover more than half of the insured losses to date.
The market leader, state-owned Powszechny Zaklad Ubezpieczenia, has reported initial losses of 350 million zlotys ($101.4 million), a figure that has not changed for two weeks.
The country's second-ranking insurer, Warta Insurance Co. Ltd., has reported initial losses of 160 million zlotys ($46.3 million), and the third-ranking company, Polisa Insurance Co., reported initial losses of 9 million zlotys ($2.6 million).
Polisa's losses are relatively small, as it writes little business in the southwest of the country, concentrating on the capital, Warsaw, and eastern Poland.
"Most of our losses are household and some commercial risks," Polisa Vp Jan Rytelewski said.
Small insurers cover the balance of the damage.
Poland's top three insurers reinsure about 30% of their portfolios, while the smaller companies cede about 60%, Ms. Walcerz said.
She is reviewing the reinsurance arrangements of Poland's very small insurers; they may have had difficulty obtaining catastrophe coverage and consequently may not be able to pay claims.
The government thinks the larger companies will have sufficient reserves to pay their liabilities, but the flooding has prompted government plans for a future review of solvency requirements.
"We thought there was no need for large catastrophe reserves. In the past, there have only been local floods. These present floods are a 500-year event," says Ms. Walcerz.
The insurance industry has also floated the idea that Poland should establish a form of government-backed catastrophe reinsurance like that available through state reinsurers such as Caisse Centrale de Reassurance in France or the Consorcio de Seguros in Spain.
"There was a catastrophe fund in the 1980s when the PZU had a monopoly in the market. But in the transition to a market economy in the 1990s, all forms of government assistance against such events (as floods) was forgotten," Ms. Walcerz explained.
Total economic losses in Poland could be more than four times the insured figure. "Only 25% of the population has household insurance. In Poland, people have taken more care of their cars than of their homes," Ms. Walcerz said.
According to official reports, the floods have killed at least 52 people in Poland as of July 23. About 140,000 people have been evacuated, and 62,000 people were waiting to return home.
Twenty-five provinces were seriously affected, and flood alerts still were in force in 12 of these. More than 250 towns and villages were flooded; of these, 17 were deluged, 568,100 acres of land still were under water, 135 bridges were damaged, and 860 miles of roads were closed.
Total economic losses in the Czech Republic to date range from 50 billion to 100 billion Czech korunas ($1.45 billion to $2.9 billion), according to government figures.
In the Czech Republic, the floods have killed at least 46. About 2,500 were injured; 80,000 people were directly affected by the flooding, while 10,000 were evacuated. The floods destroyed some 1,600 houses, while 10,000 homes have been damaged badly. Information on commercial losses was not available.
In Germany, about 3,500 people were evacuated from towns south of Frankfurt-an-der-Oder. Last week, 18,000 were evacuated from Slubice in Poland. The Oder River separates Poland and Germany.
Water levels in eastern Germany were rising above those of the last major flood in the region, which occurred in 1930. The German government has provided 20 million deutsche marks ($11 million) in emergency aid to the area, while the state development bank, Kreditanstalt fur Wiederafbau, is to provide another 200 million deutsche marks ($109.6 million).
The World Bank and the European Investment Bank have offered $300 million in emergency loans to the Polish government for post-flood reconstruction. The government has launched a three-part plan to tackle the catastrophe. First, money from the state budget will be made available to the worst-affected families for immediate needs and rehousing.
The second part, expected to take some six months, will include the construction of new family homes and the repair of gas and electricity supply lines. The third part includes reconstruction of all destroyed facilities and is expected to take years.
A low-pressure weather system over Central Europe caused the flooding, according to Munich Re geoscientists. This system originated in the Mediterranean at the beginning of July, where it took up large amounts of water vapor. It then moved north over the regions of former Yugoslavia, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland, where it stayed.
A second low-pressure system moved over the Czech Republic and Poland from the eastern Alps to the west. The resulting inflow of cold air caused heavy rains to fall and the flooding of the rivers, Oder, Neisse, Opava, Morava and Vistula.