2011 a record year for economic loss due to global catastrophes



In a year that saw fewer earthquakes, mudslides, droughts and famines than the year before, the monetary loss from 2011's catastrophic events reached a record $380 billion, surpassing the 2005 record of $220 billion.

There were 820 natural catastrophes globally in 2011, causing 27,000 deaths. Most of these were from earthquakes and flooding according to data compiled by Munich Reinsurance Company and analyzed in the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs series. This is a decrease of 15 percent from 2010, but considerably above the annual average of 630 events annually between 1981 and 2010.

(See also GLOBE-Net article 'Managing extreme weather events and risks' )

'The influence of La Niña from January to May and August to December was a major cause of many of the extreme weather events in 2011,' says report author Petra Löw, a geographer and Munich Re consultant who focuses on natural catastrophe losses. 'In 2011, 91 percent of natural disasters were weather-related.'

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Nine percent of natural disasters were geophysical events, but these events, which include the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, accounted for 62 percent of overall fatalities. Japan suffered 15,840 fatalities from the earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
  • Most natural disasters in 2011 occurred in the Americas (290) and Asia (240), while fewer occurred in Europe (150), Africa (80), and Australia (60).
  • Of the weather-related natural catastrophes, 37 percent were caused by storms (meteorological), 37 percent by floods (hydrological), and 17 percent by climatological events such as heat waves, cold waves, wildfire, and droughts.
  • The year's three costliest natural catastrophes were the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan (costing $210 billion), the August-November floods in Thailand ($40 billion), and the February earthquake in New Zealand ($16 billion).

'The steady increase in losses from natural catastrophes around the world demonstrates the need for preventative measures for the world's poorest and most vulnerable communities to protect themselves,' said Worldwatch President Robert Engelman. 'These communities often have little beyond their own wits and meager resources to help them recover from a crop failure, the destruction of a home or the tragic loss of a family's breadwinner.'

What companies and governments can and should do to adapt to the rising risk of climate change was a topic of discussion at the recent GLOBE 2012 conference in Vancouver. Moderated by Blair Feltmate, Chair of Climate Change Adaptation Canada, panelists discussed the financial tools available to help build long-term resiliency and the insurance products that exist to help mitigate risks.

The group also discussed ways that the public and private sectors can work together to address climate change risks and opportunities.

Asia experienced 70 percent of the total monetary losses from natural disasters globally, up from an average of 38 percent between 1980 and 2010. The tsunami in Japan accounts for much of this rise, along with devastating floods and summer monsoons in Thailand.

The Atlantic Ocean hurricane season was the third-strongest since record-keeping began, with 19 named storms. And in May and June 2011, the worst floods in decades occurred along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, causing more than $5 billion in overall losses.

In Europe, 95 percent of the 150 disasters in 2011 were weather-related. The continent's overall economic loss of $2.5 billion is one of the lowest annual figures since 1980. And with 551 fatalities, the 2011 U.S. tornado season was the deadliest in more than 85 years.

Compounding the problem is the length of time required for communities to recover, The extensive damage resulting from the devastating earthquake in Haiti (pictured above) will require years to repair.  Similar problems exist in New Zealand, with the recovery efforts still underway in Christchurch.

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