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Natural Disaster Losses 2019 – Tropical Cyclones causing Billions in Losses dominate Nat Cat Picture of 2019

  • Severe typhoons in Japan cause the year’s biggest losses
  • Hurricane Dorian, the strongest hurricane of the year, devastates the Bahamas – US mainland largely spared
  • Natural catastrophes cause overall losses of US$ 150bn, with insured losses of about US$ 52bn – In line with long-term average
  • Humanitarian tragedy caused by cyclones in Mozambique – Over 1,000 deaths – Better protection is urgently needed

The 2019 natural catastrophe year at a glance

820 natural catastrophes caused overall losses of US$ 150bn, which is broadly in line with the inflation-adjusted average of the past 30 years. A smaller portion of losses was insured compared with 2018: about US$ 52bn. This was due, among other things, to the high share of flood losses, which are often not insured to the same extent as wind damage in most industrial countries.

The insured portion of overall losses, slightly above 35%, matches the average of the past ten years. This is evidence that large sections of the market remain uninsured, especially in emerging and developing countries.

Globally, in 2019, about 9,000 people lost their lives in natural catastrophes compared with 15,000 in 2018. This confirms the overall trend towards lower numbers of victims thanks to better prevention measures. On average over the past 30 years, about 52,000 people per year have lost their lives in natural catastrophes.

The severe cyclones in 2019 have highlighted the importance of knowledge about changes in risk. Natural climate variations influence weather catastrophes from year to year. Longer-term climate change effects can already be felt and seen. Buildings and infrastructure must be made more resistant in order to reverse the increasing trend in losses. This will enable insurance to be more effective and support the remaining financial losses.  

Second year of record tropical cyclone losses in Japan

As in 2018, Japan was again struck by very severe typhoons. Hagibis and Faxai were two equally severe tropical cyclones which hit the Tokyo area. While Faxai swept over Tokyo Bay with wind speeds of 170 km/h and made landfall in the city of Chiba, Hagibis struck further northwest, directly over the Yokohama-Tokyo conurbation.

A special feature of Hagibis was extreme precipitation, even away from the centre of the storm. In places, as much as 1,000 millimetres of rain fell within two days (that is about 1,000 litres per square metre). In many municipalities, this represented 40% of the usual annual rainfall. Levees on many rivers were breached. Countless buildings were seriously damaged, and many industrial operations were flooded.

The cyclones were the two costliest natural catastrophes of the year in terms of both overall losses and insured losses. According to preliminary estimates, overall losses from Hagibis totalled US$ 17bn, with insured losses of about US$ 10bn. Faxai caused estimated overall losses of about US$ 9bn, with insured losses of about US$ 7bn due to the greater share of more heavily insured storm losses.

This year’s typhoon season was again, as in 2018, subject to the “El Niño Modoki” effect, a particular phase of natural climate oscillation, which causes variations in water temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Under these conditions, typhoons steer more frequently towards Japan. All in all, the typhoon season in the northwest Pacific was close to the long-term average in terms of the number of storms.

Ernst Rauch, Chief Climate and Geoscientist at Munich Re, said: “The typhoon season shows that we must consider short-term natural climate variations as well as long-term trends due to climate change. In particular, cyclones are becoming more frequently associated with extreme precipitation, as with Hagibis in Japan in 2019 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in the US. Recognising these changes can form the basis for further preventive measures to reduce losses.”

Source: Munich RE

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