January 3, 2011

2010 An Exceptional Year For Natural Disasters

The world's top insurance agency said on Monday that the earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan and China helped make 2010 an exceptional year for natural disasters, killing 295,000 and costing $130 billion.

"The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change," according to a statement by Munich Re.

Spokesman Gerd Henghuber told AFP that the last time so many people died in natural disasters was in 1983, when 300,000 people died, mainly due to famine in Ethiopia.

There were 950 natural disasters recorded last year, making 2010 the second worst year since 1980.  The average number of events over the past 10 years was 785.

Insured losses amounted to about $37 billion, putting 2010 among the six most loss-intensive years for the insurance industry since 1980.

"2010 showed the major risks we have to cope with. There were a number of severe earthquakes. The hurricane season was also eventful," Torsten Jeworrek, the firm's chief executive, said in a statement.

The earthquake in Haiti in January was by far the worst disaster in terms of human cost, killing 222,570 people.  Also, about 56,000 died in a combination of heatwaves and forest fires in Russia.

The other most destructive events were an earthquake in China in April that left 2,700 dead, floods in Pakistan between July and September that killed 1,760 and August floods in China in which 1,470 perished.

Although the Haiti earthquake resulted in human devastation on a "staggering scale," it cost the industry a small portion as few people in the poverty-stricken country can afford insurance.

However, an earthquake in Chile that hit over a month later was the world's most expensive natural disaster last year, with overall losses of $30 billion and insured losses of $8 billion.

The second most expensive disaster for the insurance industry was a series of earthquakes in New Zealand, which cost about $3.3 billion and caused no deaths.

Munich Re said that the global distribution of natural catastrophes in 2010 was "comparable to that of previous years."

The American continent suffered the most disasters with 310 in Asia.  A total of 120 natural disasters were recorded in Europe, 90 in Africa and 65 in Australia and Oceania.

The year 2009 was considered a "benign" year due to the absence of major catastrophes and a less severe than usual hurricane season in the North Atlantic. 

About 11,000 people lost their lives in natural disasters in 2009, which was below the average of 77,000.

Swiss Re, another major insurance agency, reported last month that man-made and natural disasters generated worldwide economic losses of $222 billion in 2010, which is over three times the figure for the previous year.


Image Caption: Damaged buildings in Port-au-Prince. Credit: Marco Dormino/ The United Nations


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