Hundreds of French communes named as ‘natural disaster zones’ for drought

More than 1,000 French communes have been designated 'natural disaster zones' due to drought.

Hundreds of French communes named as 'natural disaster zones' for drought
Traces of bird's feet are seen on cracks are seen on a dry part of the bed of the Loire river in 2020 (Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP)

France’s Journal Officiel published a decree on Friday designating 1,022 communes across the country as ‘natural disaster zones’, namely drought, based on information from 2021 and 2022.

Qualifying as a natural disaster zone allows people living in the area to claim specific financial assistance from insurers, and to have their claim dealt with more quickly. The objective is to allow people to be adequately compensated for damage to their property. 

Areas affected by events such as storms, mudslides and flooding are often designated natural disaster zones, but drought has become a more common reason for qualifying for the status.

The 1,022 communes are mostly in the south of the country, although more than half (59) of France’s mainland départements have at least one natural disaster zone.

Five départements came out on top for having the most ‘natural disaster zones’ for drought. They were: Jura with 164 communes, Indre-et-Loire with 133, Charente-Maritime with 86, Gironde with 65 and Dordogne with 54.

You can find the total list of communes under ‘natural disaster status’ here.

READ MORE: What does a state of ‘natural disaster’ mean in France?

When it comes to drought-induced damage, this typically involves soil shrinkage (via the ‘shrink-swell phenomenon’) which can lead to cracks both in the interior and exterior walls of a building or home, as well as in chimneys or tiles. 

According to AFP estimates, more than 10 million French homes are at risk of cracking in the event of severe drought. 

With drought having become more common and long-lasting in France in recent years, French insurers have noted an uptick in drought-related claims.

The country’s insurers’ federation, France Assureurs, told Ouest France that they estimated the total cost of drought damage to French single-family homes in 2022 was €2.5 billion, a record high since France first invented the natural disaster status in 1982. 

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‘River of mud’ prompts evacuations in northern France

A "river of mud" triggered by a sudden storm flooded dozens of houses in northern France, prompting evacuations, authorities said on Wednesday.

'River of mud' prompts evacuations in northern France

The 20 minute “deluge” hit villages in the east of the Somme département, not far from the border with Belgium, late on Tuesday, local government chief Stephane Haussoulier told AFP.

The storm triggered large mudslides in some places and set loose a “river of mud” in the worst-hit village of Sailly-Laurette, he added.

Sixteen vehicles were swept away at Sailly-Laurette, which is on the banks of the River Somme. Eleven homes were flooded, some roads destroyed and 24 people evacuated, Haussoulier said.

Locals were out Wednesday clearing a thick layer of mud from streets and gardens, an AFP journalist saw.

At least 10 more villages in the eastern Somme were affected by mudslides.

Videos posted to social media showed flows of mud oozing through the streets of several municipalities.

In some places, it completely covered the wheels of cars struggling to make headway.

The flooding “caused material damage to around 100 homes”, the Somme departement’s préfecture said in a statement.

It added that firefighters had responded to 83 calls.

Earlier this month, a 57-year-old woman was killed in a mudslide in Courmelles, around 100 kilometres south of Sailly-Laurette.