• Christelle Colman

Risk of natural and mining-related earthquakes on the rise in South Africa

The risk of damage to property as a result of an earthquake is increasing for many regions of South Africa, as the frequency of both natural and mining-related seismic events have become more frequent over the past decade. As a result, many South Africans could be at risk of suffering costly damages that they are uninsured and unprepared for in the event of an earthquake.

Christelle Colman, Old Mutual Insure’s Executive for High-Net-Worth Solutions notes that South Africa is located over two natural fault lines. While they are still relatively rare, earthquakes ranging from 3.8 to 6.5 on the Richter scale have increasingly occurred along these lines, including the Tulbagh earthquake of 1969 which was the most destructive in the country’s history.

The biggest risk by far, however, comes from mining-related earthquakes as result of deep underground excavating, says WP Pienaar, Old Mutual Insure’s Chief Underwriting Officer: Commercial and Agri. “The 2014 earthquake in the mining town of Orkney near Klerksdorp made the biggest insurance impact in recent years. The quake measured 5.5 on the Richter scale with a further 115 aftershock tremors occurring over two days ranging from 1.0 to 3.8 in magnitude. It was felt up to 600 km away in neighbouring countries Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique.”

Studies by Professor Andrzej Kijko from the University of Pretoria’s Natural Hazard Centre shows that 90% of South Africa’s earthquakes are caused by mining. South Africa’s mining belt also happens to be in the vicinity of the East African Rift fault line, which is inching further apart with every passing year, causing increased seismic activity.

A particular problem threatening the potential destruction of major infrastructure in the Gauteng region especially, is illegal mining activity. “Currently, two major highways are under threat as well as the massive 94,736 seater FNB Stadium, not to mention all the businesses and residents in the vicinity.”

Colman states that these risks emphasise the growing importance of insurance and the role it plays in rebuilding communities torn apart by earthquakes and other disasters.

Pienaar says there is unfortunately precious little that can be done if one’s business is situated in an area that is exposed to these perils, especially if one is renting a building or occupying an old established property. “However, as these risks are on the rise, it is becoming increasingly vital to ensure that new buildings are designed to withstand earthquakes and tremors, particularly if built in high risk areas.”

Colman shares five safety tips for motorists driving along highways in the event of an earthquake:

  • Slow down until you can safely pull over and stop;

  • If you're on a highway, take the first exit that's safe;

  • Where possible avoid parking near overpasses, big trees, power lines, bridges, and buildings;

  • Stay in your car with your seat belt on until the earthquake is over;

  • Listen to the radio for updates.

“The bottom line is that earthquakes are not in our control, but what is in our control is how prepared we are for them. This a collective issue that needs to be tackled by government, the insurance industry, businesses and individuals alike. Knowing your risks comes first, then we need to adapt to ensure we are prepared to weather the worst-case scenario. People depend on insurance to get them back on their feet after disaster strikes, but everybody needs to take responsibility by taking safety precautions and minimizing their risk exposure,” concludes Colman.


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