Catastrophes cause record losses in 2011

EARTHQUAKES, storms and floods that battered the world in 2011 caused an unprecedented level of economic damage and insured losses, a leading insurance group said yesterday.

Natural catastrophes set a new record of $380bn (£244bn) of economic losses last year, two and a half times higher than in 2010 and $160bn higher than the previous global record set in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita devastated the US.

More than 27,000 people were killed by the events, not including the thousands who died in the famine in the Horn of Africa.

Insurance companies paid out a total of $105bn over the year, also setting a new record after beating the previous high of $101bn in 2005, Munich Re said.

Munich Re’s reinsurance director Torsten Jeworrek said many of the disasters seen last year were one-in-1,000-year occurrences at their locations.

“Thankfully, a sequence of severe natural catastrophes like last year’s is a very rare occurrence,” he said.

About 90 per cent of the 820 natural disasters that caused material losses were weather-related, from the floods to cripple Thailand in August, and Hurricane Irene in the US.

Thailand’s floods were the worst in 50 years, according to local authorities, and caused 800 deaths while disrupting the supply of about a quarter of the world’s computer components.

But both Japan and New Zealand were hit by huge earthquakes and aftershocks, with 16,000 people killed in Japan’s biggest-ever quake followed by a tsunami in March. That event alone caused $40bn of insured losses and an economic impact of $210bn.

Munich Re said the large number of earthquakes caused nearly two thirds of all economic losses and about half of insured losses in the year.

The quakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, continued throughout 2011 until just days before Christmas and have destroyed swathes of the city.