SEWA and Arsht-Rock Launch Extreme Heat Microinsurance in India

The joint endeavor aims to protect women workers in the informal sector who face extreme heat using parametric insurance to automatically replace lost income.

(Image source: Arsht-Rock homepage.)

The Washington, D.C-based Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock), in partnership with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), (Ahmedabad, India) a 50-year-old Indian trade union with 2.5 million female members, and Blue Marble, (London) a technology company focused on bringing insurance protection to the disadvantaged, together with more than 500 women workers in the informal sector, have announced a new, parametric insurance product to help women in India recover wages lost due to climate-driven extreme heat events. According to a statement from SEWA and Arsht-Rock.

Kathy Baughman McLeod, Director, Arsht-Rock.

The purpose of the project is to protect the health and livelihoods of heat-exposed women working informally in India. Beginning in April 2023, as the hottest season and frequent heat waves begins to arrive in India, Arsht-Rock, SEWA, and Blue Marble will target 21,000 SEWA members in Ahmedabad across a variety of occupations—from salt pan miners, waste recyclers, and head loaders, street vendors to farmers, ship breakers, construction, and home-based workers—to participate in phase one. Based on learnings from the pilot, the goal is to quickly scale to the entire 2.5 million SEWA member community spanning 18 states and beyond, in future heat seasons.

“Women are profoundly and disproportionately impacted by climate change, particularly extreme heat, which claims more lives than any other climate hazard and is wreaking havoc on the lives of poor women,” comments Kathy Baughman McLeod, director, Arsht-Rock. “In India’s informal sector, women labor for prolonged periods of time in dangerously hot conditions which leads to preventable pain and suffering, ranging from lingering rashes, to infections, burns, and chronic heart and kidney disease. The Extreme Heat Income Insurance will ensure that these women don’t have to choose between protecting their health or their family’s financial security.”

The project—inspired by a predictive health impact algorithm created by Arsht-Rock’s Heat Health Science Panel and practitioners at Blue Marble—is activated when specific extreme heat conditions that are expected to result in negative health outcomes are met. At this point, a payment to SEWA members’ bank accounts is generated to compensate for projected lost income due to unsafe working conditions created by extreme heat.

Reema Nanavaty,
Director, SEWA.

The parametric tool is designed to pay out multiple times in one heat season to replace income—currently estimated at $3 per day—when the heat event occurs. In the pilot phase, the premium will be paid by the program, not by the workers, with a local insurer offering the cover.

As noted by Subhanben, a salt pan worker and SEWA member, “climate shocks directly reduce our working hours and incomes to half. Sometimes even more. Food turns rancid or dry. Women are the worst sufferers.”

“Unless the livelihoods of millions of poor women workers like Subhanben are stabilized, no social protection measures become effective,” adds Reema Nanavaty, director, SEWA. Therefore, our partnership with Arsht-Rock to launch the Extreme Heat Income Insurance for SEWA members and the Climate Resilience Fund for women represent critical action on climate,” 

Sarah Ebrahimi, Head of Institutional Partnerships and Personal Insurance, Blue Marble.

 According to the statement, Arsht-Rock is committing scientific and technical expertise, strategic communications, metrics, and evaluation, and $500,000 to cover the premium and design of the product, while also serving as the lead convener of extreme heat and health risk experts and scientists to advise on the project’s design. Arsht-Rock will also function as the primary fundraiser to source and attract additional capital required to scale to SEWA’s 2.5 million members. SEWA will facilitate access to program participants and conduct community research in the design phase to better understand the needs of its members, collect program and impact data, and provide guidance on geographic and population selection for the pilot and subsequent expansion. Blue Marble will design and monitor the product, including the identification of women’s insurance needs, perform risk analysis and modeling for each subsegment and geography, identify risk carrier(s) to underwrite the policies, and manage the product’s evolution.

“This is a ground-breaking innovation to address the life-threatening impact of extreme heat for women workers of India.” says Sarah Ebrahimi, Head of Institutional Partnerships and Personal Insurance, Blue Marble. “We are proud to be developing this solution with Arsht-Rock and SEWA to create a vital safety net for women workers and their families.”

To complement the income replacement payout, Arsht-Rock, SEWA, and Blue Marble are exploring the addition of personal accident, maternity care, and disability products over time, intended to improve health and build more secure household finances, in addition to an early warning mechanism and trainings based on forecasted heat conditions on the health of participants. These additional covers will be informed by market research during the product design phase. Arsht-Rock, SEWA, and Blue Marble will also explore sourcing new heat-resilient tools to protect women workers from heat’s effects, like heat-resistant hand tools, gloves, and other practical fixes to reduce pain and injury.

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Miles O’Donnell // Miles O’Donnell is a Vancouver, Washington-based student with an interest in journalism and business administration currently working as a junior reporter for Insurance Innovation Reporter. His interests include politics, philosophy and music.

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