Natural Disasters…Just Waiting to Happen
Volume XIX, Issue 34
My New Orleans family hunkered down and rode out Hurricane Ida, hoping that the new levees would hold tight and flooding wouldn’t happen like it did 16 years ago (to the day) in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This is in spite of their living dangerously close to Lake Pontchartrain…literally two short blocks away. One of my sisters (I have two living in New Orleans) sold her Metairie home of 46 years and moved into a new condominium incredibly the day before the hurricane hit the city, noting to all of us in a text message last night, “I got out of the house in the nick of time!”
No joke! The house, with a pool and landscaped back yard barely survived Hurricane Katrina. Months later when they were able to return to the city they had to take the entire interior of the house down to the studs and rebuild it virtually from scratch. This is not something she ever wishes to do again in her life if she can help it. Yep, she dodged a bullet this go round.
Once the hurricane had subsided, and with the serious power outages, both sisters got in their cars and headed in opposite directions to safety—one to Houston to stay with my third sister who lives there and the other to her husband’s son’s home in Florida. Text messages were wildly flying among all of us all during the night, concerned about their safety. She reported, “On the road we saw dozens of service trucks with bucket cranes heading for N.O. So, maybe the job will get done a little faster.” Meaning…faster than the last disaster, Katrina!
This got me to thinking about natural disasters in general, and how France seems to have less over which we can be concerned, at least compared to the U.S. But, maybe I’m dreaming?
France is one of Europe’s most centrally located countries, bordered by Belgium and Luxembourg to the Northeast, Germany and Switzerland to the East, Italy and Monaco to the South, and Andorra and Spain to the Southwest. It is 547,030 square kilometers, just shy of Texas’ 695,662 square kilometers, if that gives you an idea of size relative to the U.S. With large tracts of flat land, except the natural borders of hills and mountains from the East to the South, a continental climate prevails in the Eastern inland areas, a Mediterranean climate in the South, and a maritime climate in the Atlantic coastal areas.
It’s not entirely void of disasters—floods, landslides and storms do often occur in France. Heat waves, forest fires and drought are occurring more and more frequently in the summer months. Southeastern France (Nice and environs) also can be affected by earthquakes and volcano activities. According to the Think Tank Germanwatch, France is the 15th country most affected by natural disasters, increasingly so in the last 20 years. Climate change is to blame. It is estimated that by the year 2100, episodes, such as heavy rains and flash floods, near the Mediterranean will increase.
According to Science Direct in December 2018, “in the long run, there were 22 residents affected every month per thousand population. This risk factor has been falling by five fewer people with every passing decade. France has thus improved its preparedness to natural disasters even though the seaboard regions fare worse than the northern region, most likely because of heightened urban pressure in hazardous areas by the seaside. Tropical territories are more at risk than the temperate European mainland, from a different mix of events. The full economic cost of natural disasters is estimated at 22€ per capita per year and represent a small fraction of property insurance premiums.”
This knowledge is what’s going to be our saving grace. We have an opportunity now to play a role in protecting and adapting to the risks, with regard to buildings designed to meet the challenges imposed by natural hazards, by being stronger and better insulated to cope with increasing temperatures. As it turns out, France took the lead as the top G20’s most attractive market for renewable energy investments in the Climate and Energy Monitor 2018 report by insurance company Allianz.
Having once lived in Southern California, earthquakes are also on my radar. In France earthquakes are moderate, and measured against the size of the country, earthquakes occur very rarely. The strongest earthquake in France happened in in 1959 in the southern region near Saint Paul sur Ubaye, Jausiers, Ceillac and the Vars with a magnitude of 5.5 on the Richter scale. In 2006, seismic activity was recorded in the Pyrénées with a magnitude of 4.7 and no deaths.
Flash floods, however, are more prevalent. Just last week, a storm dumped over 100 mm of rain in a short period causing floods in the Var Department. Météo-France said their rain gauges recorded 81.3 mm at Vauvenargues, near Bouches-du-Rhône on August 24th, which is nearly three times the average monthly total for the month of August at this station. The town of Pignans was badly affected by the flooding.
Two weeks ago, wildfires raged in the Var, too, using special water-dropping aircraft to battle the blaze under difficult conditions, with high temperatures and strong winds. Southern France is predicted to be hit by wildfires with increasing frequency as a result of climate change. The U.N. is calling this the “new normal.”
Climate issues and natural disasters are under the control of the Conseil d’Orientation pour la Prevention des Risques Naturels Majeurs (Advisory Committee for Major Natural Hazards, COPRNM), which is under the authority of the Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development. This Ministry is in charge of prevention while the Minister of the Interior deals with the urgent assistance and rescue team organization. In parallel, the Association Française pour la Prevention des Catastrophes Naturelles (French Association for Prevention of Catastrophic Natures, AFPCN), works as an Advisory Board and think tank for prevention of major natural hazards. It acts independently from any state influence.
I suppose we must get used to it. And we must deal with it. And we will. No where in the world is safe, but at least France is a leader in Climate Control. As a country policy, it is ensuring that the Paris Agreement cannot be reversed, that it will improve everyday life for all of its citizens, that it will turn away from fossil fuels and commit to a carbon-neutral approach. It is determined to be a leader in a green economy, tap into the potential of ecosystems and agriculture and scale up international action on the climate.
I must admit, I feel safer in France.
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. To all of you traveling to France, particularly those of you planning to attend our Living and Investing in France Conference, a few encouraging words:
At present the USA is on France’s green list, meaning that people can travel from the USA to France for any reason—including tourism—and need to show either a vaccination certificate or a recent negative COVID test at the border. Once in France, there is no need to quarantine. Click here for this article. Here’s an alternative article.
France now has an online application for their Health Pass. Click here for the new health pass online booking site which will automatically translate into English. You will need to register by creating a login and password. You will be able to track your application process using this system. Please note, if you submitted your application via email it will be processed within 10 days prior to traveling, if not sooner. (If you are from the U.S. when asked to type in what is the country of residence and the country of vaccination you have to type in the French word for the United States: Etats-Unis and then it will pop up.)
More insights: restaurants, bars and tourism sites also accept vaccination cards. It is easy to get Antigen tests at a local pharmacy quickly for a return flight home.