Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Insurance Company Munich Re - Natural Catastrophes in 2010

Insurance companies oviously care about natural catastrophes and the resulting damages.  I walked by Munich Re most days on my way to the office when I had my Spring semester sabbatical last year.  The Walking Man sculpture stands out front of Munich Re - see my photo below.  

Munich Re has issued a press release on natural catastrophes of 2010.  Read the full press release at the Munich Re webpage.
Several major catastrophes in 2010 resulted in substantial losses and an exceptionally high number of fatalities. The overall picture last year was dominated by an accumulation of severe earthquakes to an extent seldom experienced in recent decades. The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change. 

Altogether, a total of 950 natural catastrophes were recorded last year, nine-tenths of which were weather-related events like storms and floods. This total makes 2010 the year with the second-highest number of natural catastrophes since 1980, markedly exceeding the annual average for the last ten years (785 events per year). The overall losses amounted to around US$ 130bn, of which approximately US$ 37bn was insured. This puts 2010 among the six most loss-intensive years for the insurance industry since 1980. The level of overall losses was slightly above the high average of the past ten years.

"2010 showed the major risks we have to cope with. There were a number of severe earthquakes. The hurricane season was also eventful – it was just fortunate that the tracks of most of the storms remained over the open sea. But things could have turned out very differently", said Torsten Jeworrek, Munich Re's Reinsurance CEO. "The severe earthquakes and the hurricane season with so many storms demonstrate once again that there must be no slackening of our efforts to analyse these risks in detail and provide the necessary insurance covers at adequate prices. These prices calculated by the insurance industry make it possible to assess the economic consequences of these otherwise difficult-to-evaluate risks."

Major catastrophes dominate the list of losses

In all, there were five catastrophes last year assignable to the top category of "great natural catastrophes" based on the definition criteria of the United Nations: the earthquakes in Haiti (12 January), Chile (27 February) and central China (13 April), the heatwave in Russia (July to September), and the floods in Pakistan (also July to September). These accounted for the major share of fatalities in 2010 (around 295,000) and just under half the overall losses caused by natural catastrophes.

One of the most devastating earthquakes in the history of the past 100 years, the quake in Haiti on 12 January killed more than 220,000 people. Only the 1976 Tangshan earthquake in China claimed more lives (242,000). Whilst the earthquake in Haiti resulted in human tragedy on a staggering scale, it gave rise to only negligible losses for the insurance industry, as is so often the case in developing countries.

Five-hundred times more energy than in the Haiti quake was released by the earthquake that hit Chile just over a month later. With overall losses of US$ 30bn and insured losses of US$ 8bn, this quake was last year's most expensive natural catastrophe. Chile is a highly developed country with very strict building codes to take account of the high earthquake exposure. As a result, there were comparatively few human casualties, despite the severity of the quake – the fifth-strongest ever measured – although people were killed in Chile, too.

Asia and America most frequently affected by catastrophes

Natural catastrophes in Australia/Oceania gave rise to around 16% of global losses. The costliest event was the earthquake which occurred on 4 September in Christchurch, the third-largest city in New Zealand. Overall and insured losses were in the billions here as well. In Australia, there were two severe hailstorm losses, each of which caused overall losses of well over US$ 1bn in March.

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