Australia is the driest continent on the planet. Try telling that to the people of Coffs Harbour. Whilst average rainfall across Australia is reported well below average, Coffs Harbour has broken through the tape to record another milestone in rainfall for the year.
The November rainfall average for Coffs Harbour is 133mm over the period from 1943 onwards. The wettest November on record was noted in 1996 with 369.4mm of rain falling. Already for November with only a third of the month having passed, the current total is 464.4mm. The wettest 24hour period was also recorded in 1996 being 168.2mm On the 7th of November 2009 this number was eclipsed with 360.2mm of rain falling.
Coffs Harbour has experienced its fifth flood for the year with three of those being “once every one hundred” year events. Whilst rain is always welcome anywhere in Australia farmers and townspeople in the Coffs Harbour region alike have had too much of a good thing. Erosion, inundation, fencing destroyed, animals drowned, crops flattened and rotted, business swamped, houses engulfed, cars washed away and another battle with insurance companies to recoup some of the loss from the damage.
Insurance has been around since two to three thousand years B.C. However, except for non commercial style insurance where members of a community might band together to help some one out in the case of calamity, insurance involves money and ultimately profit. Insurance companies are not benevolent charities and in Coffs Harbour and along the North Coast, rules are changing.
Stuart has a property in Ballina and has just discovered his insurance to cover flood has increased. Whilst flooding from a direct excess of water is covered at a new higher rate, if the flooding was caused as a result of a creek or other natural waterway overflowing he is not covered unless he wishes to pay over $3000 annually, a ten fold increase in his premium. With a rise in sea level predicted as a result of global warming such a hike in premiums was inevitable and any insurance company really would be negligent in not covering its’ backside. Still if you look at the value of a property and the potential claim that could be made on an insurance company, it still represents a modest risk management fee for those that can afford it. However not everyone can afford insurance. AAMI, one of the larger insurance companies operating in Australia reckons thirty percent of households have either none or insufficient insurance over their homes.
Stated again, insurance companies are not charitable organizations despite the fact that according to the Insurance Council of Australia, ten to fifteen percent of all claims are fraudulent. Insurance fraud follows three basic themes they say; padding, straight out criminal and non disclosure. Not to disrespect the many unfortunate and deserving claimants in the Coffs Harbour region, there may be a further cause of soft insurance fraud as evidenced in Coffs Harbour; stupidity. Should an insurance company be liable for straight out dumbness? And if they are not liable, who should be?
The recent flooding in Coffs Harbour was the fifth such event for the year so some preparedness should be expected. One business continues to store all stock on the floor meaning any water entering will cause destruction. Part of the cause of water getting in is poor drainage approved by council when the shopping precinct was erected. Knowing of the problem from recent history, no attempt was made to sandbag the area where the water gets in or was any attempt made with the knowledge heavy rain was on the way to lift stock off the floor. Should the insurance company be liable?
A house in a low lying area on the way to Coramba just out of Coffs was annihilated in one of the previous floods this year. Trades people have been busy replacing and renewing the house over many weeks. It was finally put in the market and proud new owners have recently moved in to now be greeted with an unexpected house warming gift. This is not stupidity on the part of the owners but stupidity in allowing a house to be built in such an obvious flood plain in the first place.
Talk back and letters to the media are awash with incredularity;
“Coffs Harbour City Council has to bear a substantial amount of blame for approving development on flood prone land. Look at the site where the new hospital was constructed. During flood events the car park and lower floor FLOODS! Only one access road in, which floods. Housing estates which have been approved on sites which flood. No storm water drainage provided to housing estates, such that each neighbours water flows into adjacent properties! The council needs to be held legally liable!”
But Coffs Harbour Council will foot a significant bill for damage to roads and infrastructure caused by the flooding. The council already reports of the financial difficulties encountered as a result of the State Government offloading its responsibilities to the regions without recompense. According to Mayor Keith Rhoades this leaves over four million extra dollars needed to maintain adequate funding to areas once covered by the State. So is it any surprise perhaps the creeks are not as clean as they should be thereby restricting water flow and causing overflows and subsequent flooding?
Coffs Harbour is currently a waterlogged mess. But as sure as night turns to day, the sun will soon emerge but hopefully not erase the memory of the past. Effective moves can are needed to reduce the chances of damage in future flood events. Some of the answers will lie in education, some in pre emptive housecleaning of the cities creeks and drainage system but surely there must also be a review of the approval process for land development to ensure developments are flood safe and able to cope with water run off.
The Council does a great job and should in the main be applauded. But for now, the only significant flood event welcomed in Coffs Harbour will be a flood of ideas emanating from Council on how to effectively manage future flood risk. Hopefully the spin off will be a reduction in insurance premiums or maybe pigs will learn to swim instead of fly.