Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2009: catastrophes claim fewer victims, insured losses fall

Swiss Re: On a worldwide basis, natural catastrophes cost insurers USD 22 billion in 2009, while man-made disasters cost an additional USD 4 billion. Insured losses were highest in North America, where they cost insurers over USD 12.7 billion. The death toll was the highest in Asia, where nearly 9 400 of the world’s 15 000 catastrophe victims lived. Insured losses in the region were approximately USD 2.4 billion.

Compared to previous years, 2009 was a low loss year. According to Swiss Re’s latest sigma study, “Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2009”, 133 natural catastrophes and 155 man-made disasters occurred in 2009. Six events each triggered insured losses in excess of USD 1 billion. The costliest event was the European winter storm Klaus, which struck France and Spain in January, and led to insured losses of EUR 2.35 billion (nearly USD 3.4 billion).

Historically, catastrophe losses have been highly volatile, with a strong upward trend. In US dollars, the historic upward trend for global insured losses is around 10%, and is driven by higher income, increasing wealth, a higher value concentration of wealth in loss prone regions and a trend towards more insurance coverage. Global warming and the related higher risk of extreme weather conditions also contribute to the trend.

Thomas Hess, Chief Economist of Swiss Re, commented: “The probability that we see natcat losses as low as those in 2009 is less than 35%. We have already seen significant events in 2010 with winter storm Xynthia in Europe or the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti. The industry is therefore well advised to prepare for much higher losses. Given their high volatility, losses could easily be three to five times what they were in 2009. In 2005, insured losses set a record when they soared to USD 120 billion. I would not be surprised if this record is broken in the not too distant future.“

Most of the attention in recent years has been mainly focused on the primary perils – ie earthquakes, hurricanes and winter storms. However, many other natural phenomena, referred to as secondary or other perils, can also cause widespread damage to property. The most prominent secondary perils are flooding, landslides, hail storms, tornadoes, winter storms outside Europe, snow and ice storms, droughts and bush fires. In 2009, more than half of the natural catastrophe loss burden was caused by secondary perils…..

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