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07/18/2013

The (rapidly) rising cost of natural disasters

Alberta

A flooded neighborhood in High River, Alta., June 29, 2013. (Photo by The Canadian Press)  

A total of 460 natural hazards ripped through the world in the first half of 2013, slightly above the average for the past 10 years, says a report by Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer.  

The losses are being pegged at about US $45 billion.

Take a look at the map here.

Flooding, says the report, was the biggest culprit between January and June. As much as 47 per cent of overall losses were due to inland flooding in Europe, Canada, Asia and Australia.

The most expensive natural catastrophe in the first half of the year was the flooding in southern and eastern Germany in May and June, which saw an overall loss of more than US$ 16 billion and an insured loss of about US $3.9 billion.

“It is evident that days with weather conditions that lead to such flooding are becoming more frequent and that such weather systems tend to remain stationary for longer,” said Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re’s geo risks research unit.

Debate in climate research is currently focusing on what the causes of such changes in weather patterns could be and what role climate change might play in this, said Hoppe. “But it is naturally not possible to explain single events on this basis.”

The second most expensive event was a “squall line with severe tornadoes” in the U.S. between May 18 and 22. The destruction was enormous: buildings were destroyed, 26 people were killed and over 370 injured.

The economic loss was more than US $3 billion, of which about US $1.5 billion was insured.

Alberta flooding also shows up Munich Re’s radar. The company says initial estimates indicate to an overall economic loss of more than US $3 billion, while the insurance loss will likely be more than US $1 billion.

But the event which saw the most loss of lives was the disaster caused by flash floods in northern India and Nepal as a consequence of “exceptionally early and extremely heavy monsoons.”

Roads and bridges were washed away, over 1,000 people were killed.

Raveena Aulakh is the Toronto Star's environment reporter. She is intrigued by climate change and its impact, now and long-term, and wildlife. Follow her on Twitter @raveenaaulakh

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