Higher Insurance Losses as Small Disasters Add Up

This year was marked by an absence of "megacatastrophes" but an increase in the number of smaller-scale natural disasters caused higher losses than the insurance industry saw in 2006, Munich Re said.

In its annual natural catastrophes report released on Thursday, the world's second-biggest reinsurer said total losses from natural disasters rose by 50 percent to $75 billion as climate change caused more extreme weather events.

Insured losses doubled to $30 billion as the number of disasters -- defined as natural events causing more than 10 fatalities or damage in the millions of dollars -- rose to 950, the highest number since Munich Re's records began in 1974.

"The figures confirm our expectations," said Munich Re board member Torsten Jeworrek. "The trend in respect of weather extremes shows that climate change is already taking effect and that more such extremes are to be expected in the future."

"We should not be misled by the absence of megacatastrophes in 2007," he added in the report.

The most economically destructive event of 2007 was a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Japan's Niigata prefecture in July, causing $12.5 billion of damage, including to a nuclear power plant, and killed 11 people.

Insured losses from the quake totalled just $300 million. The most expensive event for the insurance industry was winter storm Kyrill, which killed 49 people when it hit Europe in January and caused $10 billion worth of damage, $5.8 billion of which was insured.

The worst human catastrophe -- Cyclone Sidr, which killed 3,300 people in Bangladesh and India in November -- caused economic losses of $2.3 billion, virtually none of which was insured, Munich Re said.

Bangladesh is seeking $2.21 billion in assistance from foreign donors to help rebuild its infrastructure and for a long-term disaster protection programme after the cyclone, the worst to hit the country since 1991.