Disaster damage down in 2009

Munich Re, a leading global re-insurance group based in Germany, said Tuesday that natural catastrophes took many fewer lives and caused much less damage on average in 2009 than in the previous decade's average.

Disaster damage down in 2009
Photo: DPA

But the group nonetheless pointed to a higher total number of destructive events, around 850, than the long-term average since 1950, and deplored failure to achieve a breakthrough at the Copenhagen climate summit.

In its annual look at the cost of natural catastrophes, Munich Re said, “Losses were far lower in 2009 than in 2008 due to the absence on the whole of major catastrophes and a very benign North Atlantic hurricane season.”

It put the death toll this year at “around 10,000,” which was well below the average of 75,000 in each of the past 10 years.

In monetary terms too, losses in 2009 were much lower than the levels in previous years, the re-insurance giant said. It estimated total economic losses this year at $50 billion (€35 billion) and insured losses at $22 billion.

That compared with economic losses of around $200 billion and insured losses of $50 billion in 2008.

In the first decade of the century, those numbers have averaged $115 billion and $36 billion respectively, the German group calculated.

Munich Re’s head of geo-risk research, Peter Hoeppe, nonetheless warned that “the trend towards an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues.”

Board member Torsten Jeworrek added that given an almost tripling of weather-related natural catastrophes since 1950, “it is very disappointing that no breakthrough was achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit.”

According to Munich Re, “Climate change probably already accounts for a significant share” of weather-related economic losses.

While there is no reference estimate for the phenomenon’s final cost, economists agree the bill is likely to be in the trillions of dollars.

Warming of between two to three degrees Celsius (3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times would inflict a permanent loss in global world output of up to three percent, according to the 2006 Stern Review, authored by British economist Nicholas Stern.

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