Beside the Covid-19 pandemic event which is bound to cost insurers up to 80 billion US-Dollars, the usual Natural Catastrophes (NatCat) scenario was also present in 2020 and, triggered in many ways by climate change, caused an overall worldwide loss of 210 billion US-Dollars, of which 82 billion were insured (an increase of 40 % in relation to 2019). Events occurred on a global level, but worst hit last year was the Western hemisphere, particularly the United States.

After a few years of lesser activity there was an extraordinary hurricane season – the number of storms added up to 30 events, so in addition to traditional names starting with a letter of the Latin alphabet the Greek alphabet had to be used, the last storm being called Iota. The most severe storm, Laura, reached a speed of up to 240 km/h and flooded an enormous inland area in the state of Louisiana. The hurricanes caused a loss of 43 billion US-Dollars, of which 26 billion were insured. This high insurance share could regrettably not be seen in the Eastern hemisphere, where large-scale destructions by cyclones and floods in China and India remained almost uninsured. Both frequency and energy of these storms are attributed to the constant warming of the water surface of all oceans.

High temperatures even in the Arctic region and Siberia combined with long periods of drought lead to another wildfire scenario that was particularly high in the Western states of the US, like California and Oregon. Beside the huge loss of wooded areas, about 14,500 buildings and homes were destroyed in these two states alone. Weather conditions on the large plains of the American Midwest caused heavy thunderstorms and tornadoes, destroying several million hectares of corn and soybean crops.

In Europe, the NatCat experience remained relatively low last year. The worst events were again linked to climatic conditions – typical rainfall events at the end of the summer were extremely heavy on the Mediterranean coasts of France and Italy, the resulting floods destroyed hundreds of homes and traffic infrastructure, the overall loss makes up for most of the continent’s NatCat loss balance of 10.6 billion US-Dollars.

Europe was also the continent to be hit by two major earthquakes in one region, Northern Croatia near Zagreb, causing property damage of at least 2 billion US-Dollars.
All natural disasters claimed some 8,200 lives, the toll being particularly high in coastal areas and in the developing and emerging countries.

Due to the Corona pandemic and the restrictions on international travels, the number of man-made disasters, like aircraft crashes, ship disasters and terror attacks remained very low. There was one shocking event, however, the explosion of August 4th, that destroyed the port and a part of the city of Beirut, causing an economic loss estimated at 7.5 billion US-Dollars. The reason was the storage of large quantities of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical, over a long period without taking a minimum of precautionary measures.

(Sources: Munich Re, Swiss Re, Artemis)

The article is written by Andreas Krebs.

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