I first saw Mario* standing in front of his hardware store in Buenos Aires, a cigarette in one hand, the newspaper in the other one. I knew he had been watching me as I was knocking at each and every door of the shops in the street, looking for experiences related to flooding in the area. When I finally got to him, he was standing right in front of the door, blocking the entrance to the shop. What are you trying to sell us? – He asked in a raspy and rather irritated voice. It took a couple of minutes for me
to explain that no, I was not sent there by any strange agency and no, I did not want to get any money from him. Ten minutes later, I was sitting inside the shop with a coffee in my hands, listening to Mario talking about the five times his shop was flooded.
Among the many things I learnt during my business trip to Argentina, I am sure that at least three will stay in my mind for many years to come. The first is that Argentinians like to chat – as long as you are not trying to talk them into buying something. The second thing is that they are very welcoming, but you should be prepared to drink a lot of coffee. You might think that, for an Italian, this cannot be much of an effort. But I must admit that at the fourth coffee in only two hours, I started wondering what would have happened if I had not previously gained many years of experience in saying no to my grandpa trying to serve me the third round of pasta during lunch. Finally, I learned that when you are Italian, it is not that easy to talk about anything else. Everybody has an Italian cousin, spouse, grandpa or friend. And as soon as an Argentinian would recognize your Italian accent – in my case, it would take them about 3 to 5 words – he/she would start talking about his/her ties with Italy and relatives spread around the Italian peninsula. And even though I was extremely happy to chat about Italian food and wine, it took some efforts not to be side-tracked and to remain focused on my "mission" there. It was usually only after intense rhetoric efforts that I could drag them back to the original topic of our conversation: floods.
Mario too had Italian origins and part of his family was still living in Salerno. However, he was less interested in my Italian background and more than happy to move on to chat about his stories. For the forty minutes we sat together in his shop, he told me about the problems that the neighborhood had experienced with floods. His shop was flooded five times. The 2012 flood was particularly shocking for him. Since the morning, the radio had been spreading alert warnings about dangerous weather conditions around the country. Mario, who was already carrying on his shoulders the burden of three flooding events in his shop, had moved some of the valuable equipment to the second floor. However, he was determined not to close the business on that day.
During lunch time, when the rainfall reached its peak intensity, the water started to break into the building. He was standing on top of the table, holding the cashier register in his hands to avoid having it damaged by the water. When the water inside was almost one meter high, plastic goods in the shop were floating out of their containers and around the room. From the window he could see the street turning into a river, tens of garbage bags navigating it. It took him three days to clean everything in the shop. To him, the flood meant lost income and damaged merchandise, but also efforts, energy and fatigue. Mario did not have any insurance coverage for floods, as is the case for most of most of small and medium businesses in Argentina. Everything he had to pay for, he covered with his own savings.
In just a couple of days, I collected other seventeen stories similar to Mario's one. Overall, I talked with more than 60 shop owners about their impressions of flood. Interestingly enough, even though the last severe flood hit the city only 2 years ago, all businesses asked were confident that the exposure of their business to the risk of flooding would now be lower thanks to infrastructural work realized by the government, changes in the precipitation patterns and a better management of urban waste determine a lower exposure for flood risk for their businesses. This underlines the importance of working closely with civil society associations, SME representatives and public authorities to raise awareness on flood risk in Argentina.
How can the insurance and reinsurance business better respond to the needs of Argentinians? We believe that our industry can make a big difference in helping
Argentinian families and businesses become more resilient to floods. With the technological advances, tools and knowledge available to the industry, the creation of a private flood insurance market is now a viable and sustainable opportunity.
To find out more about the risk of floods in Argentina, have a look at our new publication!
*The name has been changed to protect the privacy of the respondent.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Floods/storms
Location: Buenos Aires, Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, Argentina