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Sunday, January 8, 2012

2011 was costliest year in world disasters

The USA had company as it suffered through devastating weather and climate disasters in 2011. The entire world endured its costliest year ever for losses from natural disasters at more than a third of a trillion dollars in damage, according to a report released Wednesday by global reinsurance firm Munich Re.

The earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March accounted for more than half of the damage.

The number of disasters was about average, and fatalities were below average. Still, direct property losses from natural catastrophes reached almost $380 billion, according to Ernst Rauch, the head of Munich Re's corporate climate center.

Based on records from 1981-2010, an average year sees global economic losses of $75 billion, Rauch reports.

The previous record for damage was $261 billion in 2005. The figures are adjusted for inflation.

Economic losses caused by the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Japan came to $210 billion, making it the costliest natural catastrophe of all time.

The Japanese disaster was also the year's deadliest catastrophe, with 15,840 fatalities reported.

"Thankfully, a sequence of severe natural catastrophes like last year's is a very rare occurrence," says Torsten Jeworrek, a Munich Re board member responsible for the global reinsurance business.

Reinsurers offer backup policies to companies writing primary insurance policies. Reinsurance helps spread risk, so the system can handle large losses from natural disasters.

Some of the events in 2011 were the type that could be expected only once every 1,000 years.

Though the number of geophysical disasters such as earthquakes do not appear to be increasing over recent years, Rauch notes, the number of meteorological disasters are rising.

"At least part of the weather-related natural disasters can be attributed to climate change, but we cannot quantify the amount," Rauch says.

The link between global warming and disaster losses remains debatable, as an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report noted in November. The role of climate change can't be ruled out, but the major cause of high losses has been increasing populations and value of development in storms' paths, the report suggested.

The other top 2011 disasters were floods and landslides in Thailand ($40 billion); the earthquake in New Zealand ($16 billion); severe storms and tornadoes April 22-28 in the USA ($15 billion); and Hurricane Irene in the USA ($15 billion).
Source: usatoday

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