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Natural catastrophe costs soar worldwide in 2016

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Global natural catastrophe losses reached their highest level in four years in 2016, and the United States experienced the most loss events since 1980, although most of last year’s losses were uninsured, Munich Reinsurance Co. said Wednesday.

Losses from earthquakes, storms and other natural catastrophes totaled $175 billion in 2016, the highest total since the $180 billion in losses experienced in 2012, although insured losses accounted for only $50 billion of losses last year, according to an analysis by the German reinsurer.

“After three years of relatively low nat cat losses, the figures for 2016 are back in the mid-range, where they are expected to be,” Torsten Jeworrek, a member of the Munich Re board of management in Munich, said in a statement. 

The costliest natural catastrophes of the year occurred in Asia as two April earthquakes on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu caused $31 billion in damage, less than 20% of which was insured, while floods in China in June and July caused losses of about $20 billion, only about 2% of which were insured, according to Munich Re’s report.  

North America experienced more loss events in 2016 than in any other year since 1980, with 160 events recorded, which accounted for $55 billion, or 33%, of global natural catastrophe losses, according to the report. Roughly 54% of the losses in North America last year were insured compared with a long-term average of 44%, according to the report. 

Hurricane Matthew was the costliest North America event in 2016, causing about $10.2 billion in damage, with about 37% of these losses insured, and 601 fatalities, according to the report. Matthew had the greatest impact in Haiti, which was still struggling to recover from the 2010 earthquake, as it resulted in about 550 deaths in the country and about $1.4 billion in damages, according to the reinsurer. The storm also caused serious damage on the U.S. East Coast. 

Wildfires in the Canadian town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, in May and major floods in the southern United States also contributed to natural catastrophe losses in North America. The Alberta wildfire generated losses of about $4 billion, 72% of which were insured, while floods in Louisiana and other states triggered losses totaling about $10 billion, 25% of which were insured. 

“A look at the weather-related catastrophes of 2016 shows the potential effects of unchecked climate change,” Peter Hoeppe, head of Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Center in Munich, said in a statement. “Of course, individual events themselves can never be attributed directly to climate change. But there are now many indications that certain events — such as persistent weather systems or storms bringing torrential rain and hail — are more likely to occur in certain regions as a result of climate change.”