Losses from natural disasters totalled $380 billion (294 billion euros) last year, topping the previous record set in 2005. Although not all of them were covered by insurance, damage claims reached record levels, too.
Total economic losses from natural catastrophes, including those not covered by insurance, totalled $380 billion (294 billion euros) last year, German reinsurance giant Munich Re said in its 2011 review of natural disasters. The figure is the highest ever recorded, breaking the previous record of $220 billion set in 2005.
Munich Re also said that payouts to insurance clients, affected by natural disasters, reached a record, too, as they claimed $105 billion in damage compensation, compared with $101 billion in 2011.
The world's biggest reinsurer said the eathquake and tsunami in Japan in March alone caused damage claims of between $35 to 40 billion. An earthquake in New Zealand in February added a further $13 billion to insurers' payouts for the year.
"Fortunately, such as series of heavy natural disasters happens only rarely, probably just once in a thousand years," Munich Re's executive board member Torsten Jeworrek told the DPA news agency.
Year of Tremors
These two earthquakes together made up about half of last year's total insured losses from natural catastrophes.
Jeworrek said that normally "dominant loss drivers" for the insurance industry were "weather-related natural catastrophes". Last year was unusual, he added, as in previous years earthquakes had caused, on average, only about 10 percent of all insured losses from natural disasters.
The Germany-based reinsurance company described the earthquake in Japan as "the biggest disaster of all times." However, it said that it claimed only "moderate damage" to the country's infrastructure due to "strict construction regulations" in Japan. The ensuing tsunami, which killed about 16.000 people, was much more devastating, it said.
"The risk of earthquakes overall has not increased," Peter Höppe, the head of Munich Re's Geological Department, told DPA.
But the heavy tremors, he added, should serve as a warning not to underestimate the importance of risk assessment, especially in building nuclear power plants.
More weather damage
The worst weather disaster in 2011 were the floods in Thailand, according to the Munich Re review. It caused losses of at least $10 billion, killing about 800 people, and stalling production of Japanese car and electronics manufacturers in the country.
Munich Re estimates the damage caused by natural disasters are likely to rise further due to climate change and more expensive infrastructure in areas prone to natural disasters.
In spite of rising payouts, Munich Re said its earnings from insurance premiums had risen to 46 billion euros in 2010, resulting in a profit of 2.4 billion euros.
Author: Uwe Hessler (Reuters, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel