2008: Over 220,000 deaths from natural disasters

Munich back demands climate agreements

The Eye of the Hurricane © NASA / ISS
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Numerous devastating tropical cyclones and the earthquake in central China's Sichuan province have made 2008 one of the worst natural disaster years ever. Not only did more than 220, 000 people worldwide die as a result of the natural events, but overall economic losses also amounted to around 200 billion US dollars - only slightly less than in the record year 2005 (232 billion US dollars). This balance sheet has now been submitted by Munich Re.


In addition, insured losses in 2008 increased by 50 percent year-on-year to $ 45 billion. This is astonishing as the number of claims relevant to events decreased overall compared to the previous year (from 960 to 750). Individual catastrophes, however, drove the number of casualties and losses up significantly, according to the results of Munich Re.

Long-term trend continues

In particular, weather catastrophes made the third highest damage in 2008 in terms of inflation-adjusted values, surpassed only by the hurricane year of 2005 and 1995, when the Kobe earthquake hit Japan.

"This continues the long-term trend that we are observing: Climate change has already begun and is likely to contribute to more frequent weather extremes and related natural disasters. These, in turn, are inflicting ever greater damage, as the value concentration in risk-exposed areas, such as the coasts, continues to rise worldwide, "commented Torsten Jeworrek, Member of the Munich Re Board of Management, on the new figures. display

"2008 showed once again how important it is for us to analyze risks in all facets, such as climate change, and steer the business accordingly, " continues Jeworrek.

Cyclone nargis and the Sichuan earthquake

Asia was once again the continent hit by the worst humanitarian disaster in 2008. The cyclone Nargis alone killed more than 135, 000 people in Myanmar. 85, 000 dead have now been officially confirmed, 54, 000 are still considered missing. The tropical storm caused devastation with very high wind speeds, record rainfalls and a storm surge, especially in the low lying Irrawaddy delta and in the former capital Rangoon.

Since large parts of the mangrove forests - a natural coastal protection - have disappeared in recent years, the storm surge was able to penetrate up to 40 kilometers into the interior of the country, according to the Munich Reck. The country was up to three and a half feet under water, more than a million Myanmar residents were homeless.


Another humanitarian disaster was the earthquake in Sichuan province, which is considered very earthquake-prone. The official statistics show around 70, 000 deaths, 18, 000 people are still missing, 374, 000 were injured and almost five million homeless. The Sichuan earthquake in May also caused the largest single economic loss in 2008, totaling around $ 85 billion. Thus, this earthquake is the second most expensive after the earthquake in Kobe (Japan, 1995).

An enormous amount of snow and ice in China had already caused enormous damage in China, which had cost more than $ 21 billion. Ice and snow hit the infrastructure in 18 provinces hard, roads and railways were blocked and partially destroyed, the power supply came to a standstill.

$ 30 billion damage from Hurricane Ike

In terms of insured losses, Hurricane Ike was the most expensive single event in 2008, according to M nchener R ck's calculations. In the previous two years, the US mainland was largely spared heavy hurricanes hurricanes caused considerable damage to the insurance industry this year as well. Six tropical cyclones in succession - Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike - reached the US coast in 2008. The heaviest of them Ike, as a Category 2 hurricane in Galveston (Texas) pulled to the mainland was. The tidal wave that triggered Ike submerged large sections of the coast of Texas and Louisiana.

According to the Munich press, the storm also caused major damage due to extreme precipitation on its way across land, resulting in insured losses of 15 billion US dollars Dollars (excluding the losses incurred by the National Flood Insurance Program). The total economic damage caused by Ike is therefore even about 30 billion US dollars.

More tropical cyclones

According to insurance experts, the number of tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic in 2008 was well above the long-term average and also above the mean value of the warm phase, which has been ongoing since 1995, and which is intensified by climate change. A total of 16 tropical cyclones were gezhlt, the previous average for the warm phase was 14.7. Eight of the storms even reached hurricane strength, five of which were classified as heavy hurricanes (strength 3-5). Thus, the hurricane season was the fourth strongest in terms of the total number of storms but also in the number of severe hurricanes,, since there is reliable data on this.

The tornado season in the US, which extends from April to September, was, according to the Munich R ck, unusually violent. In total, there were around 1, 700 tornadoes in 2008, which caused a total damage of several billion US dollars.

Damage statistics confirm climate models

According to a provisional assessment by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2008 was the tenth longest year since the beginning of routine temperature measurements, and in the northern hemisphere it was the 8th highest. Thus, the ten warmest years since the beginning of the systematic measurement have been falling over the past twelve years.

In all likelihood, the greenhouse gases emitted by humans are the cause of the progressive warming of the atmosphere. The logic is clear: Rising temperatures mean more evaporation and a higher absorption capacity of the atmosphere for water vapor and thus a larger energy content. The weather machine is on higher tours, there are more severe weather events with corresponding consequences on the claims side, "says Professor Peter Höppe, Head of Geo Risks Research at Munich Re.

And further: "For the increasing heavy precipitation events in many regions of the earth, the heat waves and the hurricanes in the North Atlantic, the connection is already probable. The damage statistics of the year 2008 fit into the pattern that one has to expect from the calculations of the climate models. "

Europe gets off lightly

Compared with the huge natural catastrophes in Asia and America, in 2008, according to Munich Re's balance sheet, Europe got off lightly. Nevertheless, there were two events here, which caused great damage. For example, in early March, Orkantief Emma swept across much of Central Europe, causing total damage of US $ 2 billion through very high wind speeds, thunderstorms and hail in Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland and Austria.

The severe weather Hilal, which moved from late May to early June on southwest Germany (especially Baden-Württemberg), also caused severe damage by strong gusts, hail and torrential floods. With insured losses of $ 1.1 billion, Hilal was the seventh most expensive natural disaster in global statistics for the year.

"For us as a leading reinsurer, the natural catastrophe trends of recent years have resulted in three action strategies that we are systematically pursuing. First, in our core business, we only assume risks at risk-adequate prices. This means: If the threat situation changes, we adjust the price structure. Second, we are developing new business opportunities with our expertise in the context of climate change mitigation and adaptation. And thirdly: As a company, we are campaigning for effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions, so that climate change will be slowed down and future generations will not have to live with difficult to manage weather scenarios, "says Jeworrek.

50 percent less greenhouse gases by 2050?

Munich Re conducts scientific analyzes on the effects of climate change and cooperates with many scientific institutes. In 2008, for example, a collaboration was launched with Lord Nicholas Stern and the London School of Economics (LSE) to make a significant contribution to research into the economic consequences of climate change.

"At the next climate summit in Copenhagen, the way to at least fifty percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with appropriate milestones must be clearly laid down. Too much hesitation will make it very expensive for future generations, "concluded Jeworrek.

In assessing natural catastrophes, Munich Re classifies into six categories. The annual accounts take into account all events in which more than ten people were killed and / or the damage was in the millions.

(Munich Re, 05.01.2009 - DLO)