Flood-damage bill could reach SFr2 billion
The recent flooding in Switzerland caused more damage in five days than in the whole of 1999, leaving behind a bill that could total SFr2 billion ($1.57 billion).
The Swiss Insurance Association said on Wednesday that it would honour private claims of at least SFr805 million before considering whether to raise premiums in the future.
The cost of private insurance claims together with road, railway and other infrastructure repairs and lost business is set to at least double that of 1999 when the country was battered by floods and two storms.
But association president Albert Lauper said that Switzerland was one of the best-insured countries in the world, with specific funds in place to pay for natural catastrophes.
"The biggest part of the damages will be covered by the insurance industry," he said. "We recognize our responsibility and accept it readily and with professionalism.
"This will ensure that thousands of people who have suffered damage will be compensated so that they can tackle the task of rebuilding Switzerland.
"Our country has the highest insurance coverage and we can say that the large majority of the Swiss population is insured well against devastating natural disasters."
Lauper would not say if premiums would be raised as a result of the floods in 1999 and this year.
"This is not a topic that we are discussing right now," he told swissinfo. "First we will settle claims and then we will ask if the premiums are adequate or limits need to be raised."
But Jürg Marty, managing director of Public Building Insurance Companies (PBI), dismissed the option of increasing premiums.
PBI, which covers damage to privately-owned buildings by fire and natural disasters in 19 cantons, put its slice of the bill at SFr500 million ($395 million).
"Individual companies must decide for themselves, but penalising people through higher premiums and being selective about risks is not the way to do things," he told swissinfo.
"We must put pressure on cantons to implement better flood prevention measures, many of which have been delayed since 1999. People will naturally have to pay for this, but it is a better solution than making them pay through their insurance policies."
Counting the cost
Canton Bern, which bore the brunt of much of this year's flooding, announced damages totalling SFr190 million ($150 million).
The Swiss Farmers' Union said agriculture had come through the floods relatively unscathed, but destroyed crops and animal feed and lost production had still cost it SFr9 million ($7 million).
Meanwhile the federal authorities have announced that the cost of repairing roads and other public infrastructure will not be known until mid-October at the earliest.
But Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger said on Wednesday that the government would help with reconstruction efforts.
He declined to specify exactly how much would be invested in rebuilding work, but said the government would help cantons to meet the cost of repairs.
Main roads and motorways as well as private railways will benefit from federal financial assistance.
Leuenberger added that there would be no government money for the Swiss Federal Railways, which has estimated that the cost of repairing damage to its infrastructure is likely to be in the region of SFr50 million ($40 million).
In a related development, more than SFr20 million ($15.95 million) was pledged or donated in Switzerland on Wednesday during a national fundraising day for the victims of last week's flooding.
Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of swissinfo's parent, the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, said that by 9pm more than SFr12 million had been pledged by telephone during the day.
An additional SFr9 million had already been donated before Wednesday's campaign, including money raised from a special television programme broadcast last Friday.
The fundraising day brought in about SFr8.5 million from the German-language area of the country, more than SFr1.5 million from the French-language region and more than SFr500,000 from the southern Italian-speaking canton of Ticino.
Five years ago, Swiss Solidarity collected SFr74 million for those affected by floods and landslides in canton Valais.
swissinfo, Matthew Allen
The 2005 floods caused more damage in five days than in the whole of 1999.
The number of private damage claims has reached 23,000.
Canton Bern, which bore the brunt of much of this year's flooding, announced damages to buildings totalling SFr190 million.
Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, on Wednesday received donations or pledges of more than SFr20 million.
The charity's record collection of more than SFr200 million was made after the Asian tsunami catastrophe in December last year.
The highest sum collected for a tragedy in Switzerland was SFr74 million in 2000 after flooding and landslides in canton Valais.
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