Flood survivors urge Congress to change inadequate insurance

This story was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Office collaboration.

As cities across the United States are increasingly inundated with fierce storms and sea level rise, a group of disaster survivors pleaded with the federal government to overhaul a flood insurance system that , according to them, is ill-equipped for an era of climate crisis.

A petition from nearly 300 people who have faced the floods and their advocates should be sent to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to call for a drastic overhaul of the government-run flood insurance system who purchases most flood insurance policies. in the USA

“We have lived without electricity, running water and no safe shelter” read the petition, organized by Anthropocene Alliance, a non-profit environmental association. “We have heard our children cry because of the lack of friends, school and safety. And we have been faced with homelessness, illness and the mind-boggling red tape of insurance companies and government agencies.

Survivors call for a ban on ‘irresponsible’ housing development in flood-prone areas, new rules that would provide buyers with the current and future flood risks of a property before buying it, and a greater focus on relocating communities and elevating properties away from flood waters rather than simply funding the reconstruction of flooded homes in the same location as before.

“Continuing to build in vulnerable places doesn’t make sense and has to stop,” said Stephen Eisenman, director of strategy at Anthropocene Alliance. “A lot of people have an incentive to buy from these places because there are no federal disclosure laws. It turns into a crisis, especially for the poorest… We are starting to see the start of a great American migration through flooding and this exodus will only accelerate in the next decade. To continue to build in these areas is just crazy.

One particular controversy is a process called “fill and build” where developers pile soil on flood-prone areas, elevating them slightly before building homes on the compacted earth. Critics say it simply diverts floodwater to neighbors and is a short-term solution to a chronic problem.

“We have developers who are building on wetlands that can no longer hold water so it just pours over us,” said Amber Bismack, a petitioner who lives in Livingston County, Mich. which is part of the Metro Detroit area. Bismack moved to the area near a tributary of the Huron River seven years ago and has seen his neighborhood flood 15 times during that time.

The flooding at times became so severe that Bismack had to don waders to get his children home through the floodwaters. The family also had to temporarily move out of the house when the drains stopped working due to the flooding. She said the worsening flooding is wreaking havoc in the local community.

“I can’t tell you how much we are seeing depression in the community because it floods again and again we have seen a real decline in people’s mental health,” said Bismack, who is part of the community. of a community group which calls on Congress to require disclosure of flood risk to all potential buyers.

“I know someone who thought their flood insurance would be $ 1,000 a year, but couldn’t find out the real risk until they bought it and FEMA figured it was high risk with a premium of $ 13,000 per year which is unlivable, ”she said. noted. “People are just stuck.”

The National Flood Insurance Plan was launched in 1968 and has become the default program for millions of Americans unable to obtain mortgages without flood insurance, which is routinely denied by private providers. However, the system became indebted, with some houses being rebuilt multiple times in the same location only to be flooded again.

FEMA considers homes to be at risk if they are in what’s known as the Centennial Floodplain, which means they have a 1% risk each year of having a foothold in the event of a flood. However, this system does not take into account proximity to water or the ongoing climate crisis, which means that many flood maps are inaccurate and bonuses don’t think the real risk. “FEMA is a joke, they don’t update their flood maps,” said Jackie Jones, a resident of Reidsville, Ga., A town that is often flooded as a result of heavy rains. “I wouldn’t have bought this house if I had known I would have so much water, but according to FEMA maps, there is no flooding here. They have to step up and take some control.

In October, FEMA unveiled a new system, called Risk Rating 2.0, which aims to address a situation where nearly half of all flood claims FEMA receives are from people outside of areas where insurance is required. . About three-quarters of the 4.9 million federal policyholders will pay more for their premiums. “We learned that the old way of looking at risk had many loopholes, which underestimated the risk of flooding a property and communicated a false sense of security,” said David Maurstad, senior program manager. national flood insurance, says AP.

The high premiums have been opposed by some members of Congress, who argue it will hurt people who need affordable housing, but Eisenman said the reforms don’t go far enough because they don’t actually hold back new buildings in the city. flood plains at risk. “Much more profound changes are needed,” he said.

The cases of “harmful” floods, where high tides exacerbated by the rise in sea level cause streets and houses to fill with water, have increased dramatically along the American coasts in recent years and more powerful storms, fueled by a warming atmosphere, bring more heavy gusts of precipitation to parts of the country. Rising sea levels alone could force about 13 million Americans move by the end of the century, research has found.

For many people, however, moving is not an option, due to financial constraints or home ties. “There is great worry and great fear because everything is in danger, even people’s lives,” said Rebecca Jim, who lives in the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Miami, a city in the region, has been regularly inundated with water that washes toxins from a nearby mine site onto homes, schools and businesses.

“It is foolish and criminal that more construction is allowed in the floodplains. But a lot of what’s inundated here is tribal land and the people here don’t budge from that. “

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