What does a state of 'natural disaster' mean in France?

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What does a state of 'natural disaster' mean in France?
What counts as a 'natural disaster' in France? Photo: AFP

The French government has declared more "natural disasters" in recent years, as climate change impacts the country, but what does that actually mean in reality?


The state of natural disaster is a special procedure set up in 1982 so the victims of exceptional natural events, such as heavy rain, mudslides and flooding, as well as drought, can be adequately compensated for damage to property.

The government evaluates each area and deems whether it qualifies for the status of "natural disaster". 

Essentially once a zone is declared a natural disaster, victims can claim from a pot of funds created by all insurers.

If the zone is not declared a disaster, insurance companies are under no obligation to pay out. 


What counts as a natural disaster? 

A natural disaster includes floods, mudslides, wildfires, droughts, severe damage from storms, avalanches and earthquakes.

In mainland France, almost any natural disaster you can think of would be covered by this act, except for high winds, which are included in a specific “storm warranty”.

What is insured?

Under a "state of natural disaster" residents are covered for all those goods and property that are directly damaged by the phenomenon, in this case storms.

It applies to residential or commercial buildings, furniture, vehicles and work equipment that are already covered by insurance policies.

Homes for example, must be already covered by a multi-risk insurance policy for the status of natural disaster to count.

Caps are placed on the excesses that victims have to pay: €380 for private claimants for professionals it stands at 10 percent of the overall claim with a minimum of €1,140.

Vehicles would also need to be covered by a full policy, not just third party insurance.

Damage to soil, livestock and crops that were yet to be harvested fall under the agricultural disasters scheme and so are also excluded in this case.

The government's role 

The government has the right to decree a state of natural disaster as of June 23rd 2014 in order to speed up the compensation of victims of "extraordinary nature of events”.

Yes, the government has already used its right to declare a state of natural disaster several times before, including in October 2015 after deadly floods in the Alpes-Maritimes region. 

Local authorities' role

To declare a “state of natural disaster” in a specific town, the town's mayor must send a request to the regional authority, who will forward it to the Interdepartmental Commission of natural disasters. If the request is accepted, the Interior and Financial Ministries will jointly pass the order. 


What steps should you take if you've been affected?

Those affected by floods have ten days starting from when the decree is passed to send their claim to their insurer by post. If possible, they should accompany it with evidence of damage. That could include photos and invoices for objects that have been damaged.

Specific details, such as the number of broken tiles or the height the water reached in each room, could also be helpful. 

Insurers then have two months to pay the first part of compensation, and three months to fully recompense the victims. The insurer can also send an expert to estimate the damage.

What if my town is not officially classified as in a state of natural disaster?

If your town is not legally in a state of “natural disaster”, you'll have to follow different procedures. You should call your insurance directly to find out if your possessions are covered in case of storms or bad weather. If this is not the case, the expenses will be your responsibility. 


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