Insurers: 2008 2nd Worst Year for Weather-Related Disasters

Insurers: 2008 2nd Worst year for Weather-Related Disasters

POZNAN – Weather-related disasters and earthquakes are likely to make 2008 the second most costly year for insurers after 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck the United States, a leading insurer said on Wednesday.

Losses in 2008 are around $160 billion so far, Thomas Loster, chair of Munich Re Foundation, told Reuters on the sidelines of December 1-12 climate talks in Poznan, Poland.

He said it was likely to have been surpassed only by 2005, when Katrina contributed to losses of $220 billion.

Cyclone Nargis, which hit Myanmar in May, was the most deadly event of 2008 so far, claiming an estimated 84,500 lives. The most costly was May’s earthquake in China.

Munich Re said in a study with the U.N. Environment Programme that weather-related disasters seemed to be on the rise, in line with forecasts by the U.N. Climate Panel that blames mankind for global warming.

“Since the 1980s, earthquakes have risen by around 50 percent but weather-related hazards such as major floods have increased by as much as 350 percent and those from wind storms have doubled,” the report said.

The rise in more extreme weather is leading to greater risks for vulnerable countries and communities while straining global insurance markets, the organizations said in a statement.

Hurricane Fay set records by hitting Florida four times and dumping almost 30 inches of rain on some areas in 2008.

U.N. climate talks in Poznan, meant to drive agreement next year on a new climate treaty, have focused on ways to insure developing countries against disasters and help them put in place prevention measures.

A proposal from the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative, a coalition of insurers, non-governmental organizations and climate change experts, outlines a mechanism to manage climate risk that could be part of a new global pact on climate change due to replace or extend the Kyoto Protocol from 2013.

The proposal says premiums for insuring property and infrastructure in developing countries from extreme events would be between $3 billion and $5 billion per year. Adding insurance for medium-scale losses and prevention measures would raise the annual cost to around $10 billion.

“I am surprised countries have not blinked at this yet,” said Koko Warner from the United Nations University, who presented the proposal to negotiators. “It made us nervous but we had to say what the cost would be.”

(Editing by Andrew Roche)


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