Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Few major natural catastrophe losses in 2009, but substantial economic losses

Munich Re: Natural catastrophe losses were far lower in 2009 than in 2008 due to the absence on the whole of major catastrophes and a very benign North Atlantic hurricane season. However, the total number of destructive natural hazard events was above the long-term average, 850 being recorded in all. Consequently, despite the lack of really disastrous events, there were substantial economic losses of US$ 50bn and insured losses amounted to US$ 22bn compared with economic losses of US$ 200bn and insured losses of US$ 50bn in the previous year.

By way of further comparison, the average number of natural hazard events with relevant losses over the past ten years was approximately 770 per annum. Economic losses came to around US$ 115bn on average and insured losses US$ 36bn. There were some 75,000 deaths per year due to natural catastrophes on average. Not only were the losses but also the death toll from natural catastrophes in 2009 – around 10,000 – was well below average.

"However, we should make no mistake: despite the lack of severe hurricanes and other megacatastrophes, there was a large number of moderately severe natural catastrophes. In particular, the trend towards an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues, whilst there has fundamentally been no change in the risk of geophysical events such as earthquakes", said Prof. Peter Höppe, Head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research.

What is noticeable about the 2009 loss statistics is the high level of individual severe-weather losses in the USA, three events alone each causing insured losses of over US$ 1bn. In all, severe weather events accounted for 45% of global insured losses. In the USA, losses due to heavy thunderstorms accompanied by hail, torrential rain or tornados rose in the decades between 1980 and the present from US$ 4bn to US$ 10bn a year on average, taking inflation into account. "Initial analyses indicate that, apart from socio-economic factors, this is already due in part to climate change", Prof. Höppe reported.

Winter Storm Klaus, which hit northern Spain and southwest France between 23 and 25 January with winds of up to 195 km/h, ranked as the costliest single event of 2009. It produced metre-high waves on the Atlantic coast and caused loss and damage to numerous buildings and vehicles. Over a million people suffered power cuts. In Spain, a large number of photovoltaic systems were damaged. Although the area affected was relatively small by winter-storm standards, insured losses nevertheless came to US$ 3bn (€2.4bn) and economic losses to US$ 5.1bn (€4bn)….

Overcast skies from Tropical Storm Danny in August, 2009, shot by mistagregory, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License


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