USA and Asia hard hit: forces of nature cause billions in damage


USA and Asia hard hit
Forces of nature cause billions in damage

While Europe gets off lightly in 2020, storms and forest fires are wreaking havoc in other parts of the world. In the past few decades, natural disasters have occurred more frequently and rage more intensely. A connection with climate change is obvious.

The global damage from natural disasters increased in the past year. Around the globe, storms, floods, earthquakes and other catastrophes have caused economic losses of 210 billion dollars (around 170 billion euros) – after 166 billion in the previous year. This is what the experts at reinsurer Munich Re have calculated for the company’s new natural catastrophe report.

The United States was hit particularly hard, where hurricanes, series of severe thunderstorms and forest fires alone caused $ 95 billion in damage – six of the ten most costly natural disasters hit the United States. Europe got away with relatively minor damage of 12 billion dollars. There are still no figures for the earthquake in Croatia on December 29th, but Munich Re estimates that the damage was rather limited, as the region around the epicenter is comparatively sparsely populated.

“2020 was a bad year both in comparison to the previous year and in the long term,” said Ernst Rauch, the group’s chief climate and geoscientist. “This means that last year is part of a long-term trend towards higher natural catastrophe losses that we have observed for decades.” However, 2020 was not a record year. “In 2005, 2011 and 2017 we had insured losses of over $ 100 billion each,” said Rauch. Munich Re has been documenting global natural catastrophe losses for decades, as this is of great importance for the insurance industry when calculating premiums.

8,200 people were killed

Fewer people lost their lives due to natural disasters: The number of worldwide fatalities fell from over 9,000 in the previous year to 8,200. “This decline is also a long-term trend,” said Rauch. The economically largest natural disaster did not occur in North America but in Asia: A summer flood in China caused 17 billion dollars in damage. In North America, however, there were several natural disasters with very high losses. These included Hurricane Laura with $ 13 billion in damage and the destructive summer forest fires in the western United States, which cost $ 16 billion.

“Most noticeable is the very high number of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic,” said Rauch. “We had 30 named events there, more than ever since regular recording began over 150 years ago. An exciting question is whether the IPCC’s next assessment report will link the increasing number of storms to climate change.”

Last year was again a very warm year, the global mean temperature from January to November was around 1.2 degrees higher than in the two comparative decades from 1880 to 1900 before the extensive industrialization of the planet. “Increasing heat waves and droughts are fueling forest fires, strong tropical cyclones are becoming more frequent, as are thunderstorms,” ​​said Rauch. In general, Europe is less affected by natural disasters on a long-term average. “When it comes to macroeconomic damage, North America sometimes comes first, sometimes Asia,” said Rauch.

Only about a third of the damage is insured

According to Munich Re, only slightly more than a third of the global losses of $ 210 billion were insured, a total of around $ 82 billion. “When it comes to insured damage, North America is clearly at the top in a long-term comparison,” said Rauch. “There are two reasons for this: intense natural events and a high insurance density. In the USA, many things are a bit bigger, unfortunately also the damage caused by natural disasters.”

In contrast to the USA, only a very small part of the damage is insured in Asia, said Rauch. “Unfortunately, this repeatedly throws countries like Bangladesh back in their economic development because the money for reconstruction is lacking. In general, Corona could perhaps change something for the better in this regard, because awareness of systemic risks and resilience is growing.”

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