Story at a glance
- Flood survivors are urging the federal government to make substantial changes to its flood insurance system to better address issues like rising sea levels and more severe storms resulting from climate change.
- A petition signed by more than 300 people is asking FEMA to put an end to irresponsible development practices like “fill and build.”
- The agency should also require sellers to disclose flood risks to potential buyers, the petition’s signatories said.
A group of flood survivors are calling on the federal government to overhaul its flood insurance system, which they claim does not adequately address issues like rising sea levels.
The petition, signed by more than 300 people impacted by flooding, along with their advocates, is addressed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is written in response to the agency’s October call for public input on revisions to its National Flood Insurance Program, which subsidizes most flood policies in the U.S.
“We’ve lived without electricity, running water and secure shelter,” the petition, organized by the environmental nonprofit Anthropocene Alliance, reads in part. “We’ve heard our children cry from the absence of friends, school and safety. And we’ve confronted homelessness, illness and mind-numbing red tape from insurance companies and government agencies.”
Petitioners are calling for FEMA to put an end to “irresponsible development in flood-prone areas” by developers using “fill and build” practices, where new buildings are constructed atop flooded areas that have been cleared and piled high with dirt.
In 20 states, sellers are not required to disclose a property’s flood risks or past flood damages to a potential buyer, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
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“A lot of people are suckered into buying in these places because there’s no federal disclosure laws. This is turning into a crisis, especially for poorer people,” Stephen Eisenman, director of strategy at Anthropocene Alliance, told the Guardian.
“We are beginning to see the start of a great American flood migration and that exodus is only going to accelerate in the next decade. To keep building in these areas is just crazy,” he said.
According to FEMA, a home is considered “at risk” if it is located within the 100-year floodplain, meaning it has a 1 percent risk each year of getting a foot of water in flooding. In October, FEMA released a new system, called Risk Rating 2.0, which would increase the flood insurance premiums of millions of people.
Petitioners called on FEMA to “make flood insurance fair” by retooling NFIP premiums to better reflect flood risk. Currently, many properties in high-risk areas receive subsidized rates, “despite the risk of catastrophic losses.”
FEMA should also protect or restore ecological infrastructure, like existing streams, floodplains, wetlands, forests, and watersheds, which protect communities from extreme flooding, petitioners say.
Under the current NFIP, FEMA will pay to rebuild a home on a property that has flooded multiple times.
Petition signatories say the agency should instead prioritize mitigation measures like elevation, home buyouts, and community relocation.
“As sea level rises, there will be a need to relocate whole towns, even cities. A massive planning effort needs to begin now,” the petition reads.
Research has found that rising sea levels alone could force roughly 13 million Americans from their homes by the end of the century. But simply moving elsewhere is not an option for everyone.
“There is a great concern and fear because everything is at risk, even people’s lives,” Rebecca Jim, who lives in the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma, told the Guardian.
“It’s foolish and criminal that more building is allowed on floodplains. But much of what is flooded here is tribal land and people here aren’t moving from that,” she said.
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