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2013 disaster losses lower than decade average - reinsurers

by Megan Rowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 15 January 2014 11:28 GMT

The economic and human loss caused by natural disasters in 2013 was below the average for the last decade, partly because fewer hurricanes hit the United States, two reinsurers reported.

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Human and economic losses from natural disasters in 2013 were lower than the averages for the past 10 years, according to two sets of annual data from major reinsurance companies.

This week, Aon Benfield's Impact Forecasting centre said close to 300 separate events last year produced total economic losses of $192 billion – 4 percent below the 10-year average of $200 billion. Munich Re reported last week that direct overall losses reached around $125 billion, much lower than the $184 billion annual average for the past decade.

The two companies declined to comment on the difference between their figures for 2013. Aon Benfield noted that its numbers include payouts made by government-sponsored programmes, as well as losses sustained by the private insurance industry.

A report released by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) last year said direct economic losses from disasters had been underestimated by at least 50 percent this century. 

Aon Benfield said 2013 natural disasters caused total insured losses of $45 billion – the lowest since 2009 and 22 percent below the 10-year average of $58 billion - while Munich Re calculated insured losses at around $31 billion.

Both companies pointed to the relatively low level of hurricane activity in the North Atlantic last year. Just 16 percent of total losses occurred in the United States, according to Aon Benfield.

“Despite registering nine separate billion-dollar events, natural disaster losses in the U.S. were down 78 percent from 2012," said Steve Bowen, senior scientist and meteorologist at Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield's catastrophe model development centre.

Munich Re put the number of lives lost in 2013 at 20,000 - double the death toll of 2012, but far below the 10-year average of 106,000. Aon Benfield gave a figure of approximately 21,250 deaths.

The two companies have different ways of measuring the number of disasters and amount of losses, but the trends highlighted are similar.

In terms of the number of events, Munich Re - which includes all disasters that cause losses or casualties - said there were 880 natural catastrophes in 2013. Aon Benfield - which counts only events that cause economic loss of $50 million, insured loss of $25 million, 10 fatalities, 50 injured or 2,000 homes or structures damaged - identified 296 natural disasters meeting those criteria. Both firms said the number of disasters in 2013 was above average for the decade.

According to Aon Benfield, floods accounted for 35 percent of all global economic losses during the year, their highest percentage of aggregate losses since 2010. Notable events included major flooding in Central Europe, Indonesia, the Philippines, China and Australia.


Munich Re noted "exceptionally high losses from weather-related catastrophes in Europe and Supertyphoon Haiyan", which caused more than 6,000 deaths in the Philippines.

The overall loss from Haiyan was $10 billion, equivalent to around 5 percent of the Philippines' annual economic output, Munich Re said. But the very low insurance penetration meant the insured loss will probably only be in the mid three-digit million range, it added.

"Events like those in the Philippines show the urgent need for more to be done in developing and emerging countries to protect people better," said Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re Board member responsible for global reinsurance business. "This includes stabler buildings and protection facilities, and insurance programmes – also with state backing – to provide those affected with financial assistance after a disaster.”

The most expensive natural catastrophe of the year was the May/June floods in Central Europe, with Germany taking the biggest hit, the two firms said. Germany also incurred high losses from summer hailstorms, they added.

Munich Re noted that flood control measures had worked well in some places in Europe, but because of better protection in many places upstream, the situation was worse downstream, with the waters rising even higher than in the 100-year flood of 2002.

Peter Höppe, head of geo risks research at Munich Re, said this demonstrated that "flood control has to cover the whole course of a river and cannot just consist of dykes", many of which broke in last year's floods.

"Rivers need space to spread out when there are floods, so that those living downstream are not hit even harder when protective measures are taken in the upper reaches. This requires efforts comprising the whole catchment area of a river, which therefore often have to be internationally coordinated,” he said.

Aon Benfield's report noted that preliminary data indicated that 2013 was the fourth warmest year recorded since global land and ocean temperature records began in 1880.


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