December 30, 2008

Busy Year For Natural Disasters

According to Munich Re, one of the world's largest re-insurance companies, 2008 was one of the most devastating years in terms of natural disasters.

The company said the effect of the disasters was greater than those in 2007.

Munich Re believes climate change boosted the power of disasters like flooding and hurricanes.  The firm is calling for stricter laws on emissions to minimize future disasters.

According to Munich Re's annual assessment, there were fewer "loss-producing events" during 2008 than in 2007, although the impact of the disasters was greater.

Last year saw more than 220,000 casualties due to flooding, earthquakes, and cyclones, the most since 2004.

Global losses totaled nearly $200 billion.

The losses make 2008 the third most expensive year on record behind 1995, the year of Japan's Kobe earthquake, and 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"Climate change has already started and is very probably contributing to increasingly frequent weather extremes and ensuing natural catastrophes," said Torsten Jeworrek of Munich Re.

According to Munich Re, Asia was the hardest hit continent during 2008.

China's Sichuan province was struck with both an earthquake which left nearly 70,000 dead and cyclone Nargis which struck Burma killing an estimated 130,000.

According to Munich Re, Nargis and the Sichuan quake also brought a large sum of uninsured economic losses.

The US claimed the most expensive single event in 2008 in the form of Hurricane Ike. The storm brought $30 billion in losses.

Yet, Ike was only one of five major hurricanes in the North Atlantic over the year, which saw a total of 16 tropical storms.

The company says 1,700 tornadoes ripped across the US and caused several billion dollars of damage, as did periods of low pressure weather activity in Europe.

Munich Re highlighted World Meteorological Organization (WMO) figures showing that 2008 was the 10th warmest year since reliable records began. That means the 10 warmest years on record all occurred in the past 12 years.

"It is now very probable that the progressive warming of the atmosphere is due to the greenhouse gases emitted by human activity," said Professor Peter Hoppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research.

"The logic is clear: when temperatures increase there is more evaporation and the atmosphere has a greater capacity to absorb water vapor, with the result that its energy content is higher.

"The weather machine runs into top gear, bringing more intense severe weather events with corresponding effects in terms of losses."

The company said world leaders must put in place "effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions" to curb climate change and ensure that "future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control".

"If we delay too long, it will be very costly for future generations," said Jeworrek.


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