Owners of Cracked Homes Helpless in the Face of Global Warming

“Timothy, 105 cm in 2010”, “180 in 2022”. On the kitchen wall of this house in Sarthe, lines and numbers mark the sizes of the grandchildren. Christelle (first name has been changed), 67, liked to measure them each time they visited. Now, this same wall is invaded by the cracks that appeared in 2011 and have become crevices since the drought of the summer of 2022. Timothy no longer comes to see his grandmother for fear that the house will fall on him. Christelle herself had to leave this winter to settle in her companion’s 28 square meter studio. Impossible to find accommodation elsewhere with his pension of 900 euros.

The house undergoes the movements of the clay soil which swells with water when it rains and shrinks when it dries. The phenomenon known as clay shrinkage-swelling (RGA) spreads the joints of the walls and threatens the foundations. More than 10 million individual houses, or just over half of the French stock, are exposed to this hazard. “The owners of cracked houses are the first victims of global warming in France”, assures Gwenahel Thirel, a lawyer specializing in the matter.

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Integrated into the natural disaster regime, the RGA, known as “drought risk”, is compensated by insurance companies when a ministerial decree recognizes the state of natural disaster. The RGA now represents the first item of compensation in the system, ahead of floods. According to the Caisse centrale de réassurance, the drought of 2022 should cost insurers 2.9 billion euros, a record since the creation of natural disaster guarantee in 1982.

Victims in need of recognition

However, not all municipalities that request it are recognized as being in a state of natural disaster. “Despite our 170 victims, since 2015 we have rejected our file on the pretext that the city does not respect the hydrometeorological criterion”, deplores Daniel Pluchon, natural risk project manager for the city of Le Mans. Defined by Météo-France, this index measures the moisture content of surface soils over a square perimeter of 8 kilometers on each side, called the geographical mesh. The data for the 8,981 meshes making up the metropolitan territory are based on mathematical modeling and not field measurements, which would be too costly. The state of natural disaster is recognized if the data is the lowest in the last fifty years.

“A very arbitrary duration”, noted the report of a senatorial fact-finding mission in 2019. A bill tabled by Europe Ecologie-Les Verts aimed at broadening this criterion and improving insurance compensation will be discussed in the Assembly on April 6. “The subject is of such magnitude that we must take it head on,” says Green MP Sandrine Rousseau.

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