Second-highest number of natural catastrophes in 30 years

Insurers were hit with $37bn of losses from global natural disasters in 2010, rising from $22bn in 2009, according to reinsurance giant Munich Re.

Last year, a total of 950 natural catastrophes were recorded, ninetenths of which were weather-related events like storms and floods.

It meant 2010 had the second-highest number of natural catastrophes since 1980 (the annual average for the last ten years is 785 events per year).

The overall losses amounted to around $130bn, compared to $60bn in 2009.

Approximately $37bn was insured, putting 2010 among the six most lossintensive years for the insurance industry since 1980.

The level of overall losses was slightly above the high average of the past ten years, Munich Re said.

"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 chief executive.

"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."

In all, there were five catastrophes last year which can be classes in 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)

The earthquake in Chile was last year's most expensive natural catastrophe with overall losses of $30bn and insured losses of $8bn.

New Chile quake

Meanwhile, a magnitude-7.1 earthquake shook southern Chile on Sunday, prompting tens of thousands to flee the coast for higher ground amid fears of a tsunami like the one that caused destruction to the area last year.

There were no reports of deaths or damage.