Near record-high catastrophe claims in 2011


This year is set to see the second highest insured losses from natural and man-made catastrophes in history, at $108 billion, according to preliminary estimates by reinsurer Swiss Re.

More than 30,000 people died due to catastrophes this year, most of them in Japan.

Economic losses to society, both insured and uninsured, reached a record high this year, at $350 billion, compared to $226 billion last year. The earthquake in Japan accounts for most of the economic losses, at an estimated $210 billion.  

If Japan had been more widely insured, the earthquake and tsunami that hit the country in March this year would have made 2011 the costliest year ever for the global insurance industry. 

Tsunami damage

Japan's tsunami: an estimated $210 billion in economic losses (Photocredit)

In addition, earthquakes in New Zealand, tornadoes in the US and flooding in Thailand and Australia are among the events that have doubled the insurance claims compared to last year, when losses reached $48 billion. 

A series of US tornadoes triggered almost $14 billion in claims and the loss of more than 400 lives, and Hurricane Irene caused nearly $5 billion in property damage. The severe floods in Thailand and Australia generated nearly $14 billion in insurance claims. 

This year's insured losses are second only to 2005 – $123 billion – when hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita caused claims of more than $100 billion. 

Kurt Karl, Swiss Re’s chief economist, said: “2011 is going down as another year of very tragic and costly earthquakes. Unfortunately earthquake insurance coverage is still quite low, even in some industrialised countries with high seismic risk, like Japan. So on top of people losing their loved ones, societies are faced with enormous financial losses that have to be borne by either corporations, relief organisations or governments and, ultimately, taxpayers.” 

The ongoing floods in Thailand and winter storms that could potentially hit Europe might bring insured losses closer to the historically high $123 billion, according to Swiss Re. 

Elza Holmstedt Pell

19 December 2011 

For Environmental Finance


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