2009 a ‘benign’ year of natural disasters

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    “We made it through the year with a minimum of natural disasters”, German re-insurer Munich Re said on Tuesday, but climate change still threatens our planet and the failed Copenhagen summit ensures losses will rise in the future.

    Munich Re said natural catastrophes took many fewer lives and caused much less damage on average in 2009 than in the previous decade.

    But the group also pointed to a higher total number of destructive events, around 850, than the average of 770 per year since 2000.

    In an annual look at the cost of natural catastrophes, Munich Re said: “Losses were far lower in 2009 than in 2008 due to the absence on the whole of major catastrophes and a very benign North Atlantic hurricane season.”

    It put the death toll this year at “around 10,000,” well below the average of 75,000 in each of the past 10 years.

    The most deadly single event as a 7.6 magnitude earthquake which shook Indonesia on September 30, killing nearly 1,200 people in and around the city of Padang, on the island of Sumatra.

    Asian storms meanwhile killed thousands more and caused widespread damage in the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.

    In monetary terms meanwhile, 2009 losses were also much lower than in previous years, the re-insurance giant said.

    It estimated the total economic cost this year at 50 billion dollars (35 billion euros) and insured losses at 22 billion dollars.

    That compared with economic losses of around 200 billion dollars and insured losses of 50 billion dollars in 2008, and a decade average of 115 billion and 36 billion respectively, the German group calculated.

    The most expensive single event was Klaus, a winter storm that hit northern Spain and southwestern France on January 23-25 with winds of up to 195 kilometres an hour (122 mph).

    Klaus cut power to more than one million people while causing economic losses of 5.1 billion dollars and insured losses of 3.0 billion.

    Munich Re’s head of geo risk research, Peter Hoeppe, warned meanwhile that “the trend towards an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues.”

    Board member Torsten Jeworrek added that given an almost tripling of weather-related natural catastrophes since 1950, “it is very disappointing that no breakthrough was achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit.”

    US President Barack Obama told PBS television on December 23: “I think that people are justified in being disappointed about the outcome in Copenhagen”

    after the UN summit ended with only vague prescriptions to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

    Munich Re said Tuesday: “Climate change probably already accounts for a significant share” of weather-related economic losses.

    While there is no reference estimate for the phenomenon’s final cost, economists agree the bill is likely to be in the trillions of dollars.

    Warming of between two to three degrees Celsius (3.6-5.4 degrees

    Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times would inflict a permanent loss in global world output of up to three percent, according to the 2006 Stern Review, authored by British economist Nicholas Stern.