Here’s some of the things we think were especially noteworthy this last week:
Japan’s Mount Ontake erupted this last week. The eruption was a surprise. The National Geographic explains that Mount Ontake belongs to a class of “stratovolcanoes”, which are notoriously hard to predict. They write, “[Stratovolcanoes] are the most lovely and deadly of volcanoes, with gentle lower slower that steepen dramatically at their narrow tips.” The Japan Times reports at least 31 people feared dead.
Don’t forget that we have volcanoes in the US too: Mount St. Helens may be showing signs of reawakening, and Glacier Peak in Washington’s Snohomish County is getting a closer look by scientists. It’s considered one of the “most dangerous but least monitored volcanoes in the country.”
Ebola Outbreak in West Africa
Kim Yi Dionne, Laura Seay and Erin McDaniel write about “AFRICOM’s Response and the Militarization of Humanitarian Aid,” at the Monkey Cage. AFRICOM, for readers unfamiliar with the various acronyms out there, is the US Africa Command. The US military has sent 3,000 troops to West Africa, where an Ebola outbreak has been the focal point for many cries for humanitarian aid since August. Dionne, Seay and McDaniel walk through the current situation and politics, as well as provide an insightful analysis concerning the increased militarization of US policy to Africa.
Storms in the Southwest US
Some amazingly strong storms have been hitting the southwest US very hard of late. AccuWeather has a great summary here.
I’ve written a lot lately about various problems with the National Flood Insurance Program. To briefly summarize, in light of decades of failures Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act in July of 2012, which promised to meaningfully reform the NFIP (for details, see my earlier posts on this topic). Biggert-Waters promised to phase out subsidized premiums for flood insurance, and thus have individuals and businesses actually pay for their own risk, update Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs), to name only two of its most important components. Biggert-Waters came under fire very quickly after its passage, however. Property owners around the country began to complain when they realized that Biggert-Waters would cause their flood insurance premiums to rise – in some cases, by very large amounts.
On March 21, 2014, President Obama signed the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 into law. This new law repeals several key provisions of Biggert-Waters, and modifies or delays other provisions. The Flood Insurance Affordability Act lowers the rate increases under Biggert-Waters – and even promises refunds to many people whose rates went up after Biggert-Waters went into effect. The new law preserves the premium subsidies that Biggert-Waters would have phased out, and extends the “grandfather clause” for pre-FIRM properties. The Flood Insurance Affordability Act also enacts a number of new protections for persons who own property in flood zones, including increased deductibles, assistance based on “ability to pay,” opportunity for discounts based on flood mitigation actions, and provision of FEMA “Flood Insurance Advocates” who will be tasked with advocating for the “fair treatment” of policy holders. On balance, the Flood Insurance Affordability Act undoes most of the (modest) good that Biggert-Waters promised.
The repeal of Biggert-Waters underscores several of the points I raised in earlier posts. Most importantly, real reform of NFIP will not be possible until we begin to address underlying causes of our present flood problems, and stop merely treating the symptoms – such as “high” premiums.
For a policy brief on the full details of the Homeowner Flood Insurance Protection Act of 2014, see this FEMA publication.