Homes at risk of drought collapse

Some mairies have already applied for their commune to be recognised as 'natural disaster' zones

Insurers fear large payouts for structural damage to properties built on clay soil because of water shortage

INSURANCE firms are preparing for tens of thousands of claims this summer from home owners whose properties have subsided because of the drought.

The problem affects homes built on clay soil, which contracts when the water table drops, putting pressure on walls and foundations which then crack or collapse.

Geology researchers have drawn up a map of the areas most at risk. They include the Ile-de-France, Midi-Pyrénées, Ardèche, Bouches-du-Rhône, Gard and Vaucluse.

Some mairies have already applied for their commune to be recognised as "natural disaster" zones, a formality required before insurance claims can be lodged.

After the 2003 heatwave, 4,000 communes in clay regions were classified as such zones for insurance purposes, costing insurers €1.3bn.

Meanwhile, there are also concerns about what effect an ongoing drought and high temperatures will have on France's electricity supply.

Electricity distributor RTE has made plans that can cope with a heatwave where temperatures are up to 7°C higher than the seasonal average.

However, if the heatwave is coupled with a drought, France could be forced to import up to 8,000 megawatts of electricity each day from Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain and Switzerland.

This is because France could have to cut its nuclear capacity due to a shortage of river water used to cool reactors.

Industry minster Eric Besson has set up a "drought committee" with RTE and the two main energy suppliers, EDF and GDF Suez, to monitor the weather and prepare for changes in supply and demand.

Photo: Paylessimages - Fotolia.com

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