Disaster losses top $70bn in first half

Devastating earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan mean 2011 is already the most expensive year in history for earthquake-insured losses, according to Swiss Re’s preliminary estimates.

Losses of $30bn (£18.8bn) were incurred due to the disaster in Japan in March, while losses from February’s quake in Christchurch, New Zealand will total $9 to 12bn.

Swiss Re estimates that total direct losses from the earthquake and reactor collapse at Fukushima are already $210bn and will rise once all the costs of the nuclear disaster have been assessed.

The total economic cost to society of all catastrophes in the first half of the year was recorded as $278bn, once uninsured losses are counted.

Including $3bn claimed after man-made events, the total losses from all disasters hit $70bn in the first six months of 2011, making this year already the second worst in history.

The record is still held by 2005, with Hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita driving losses for the whole year to $120bn.

Katrina alone was responsible for $90bn of that figure, when it overwhelmed flood defences and flattened much of New Orleans.

The US has been hit hard this year also, with two tornadoes causing over $12bn in losses.

In the same period last year natural disasters resulted in only $27bn of claims out of total losses to the industry of $29bn, meaning a doubling of year-on-year losses for the period.

According to Thomas Hess, Swiss Re's chief economist, "Additional claims from the ongoing US hurricane season or expensive winter storms in Europe have the potential to bring figures for the full year even closer to the record claims of $120bn experienced in 2005.“