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Catastrophes, disasters cost insurers $26B in 2009: Swiss Re


Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters cost insurers $26 billion worldwide in 2009, Swiss Reinsurance Co. Ltd. said Tuesday in a sigma study.

Natural catastrophes cost insurers $22 billion last year, man-made disasters cost insurers $4 billion and, combined, claimed about 15,000 lives, according to the study.

North America was hit hardest by man-made disasters, with insurers paying out more than $12.7 billion. Asia's catastrophes claimed the most lives—approximately 9,400—while insured losses for the region were about $2.4 billion, Zurich-based Swiss Re said in the study.

In comparison with previous years, the sigma study said 2009 was a “low-loss year,” though there were 133 natural catastrophes and 155 man-made disasters. The costliest event was European Winter Storm Klaus, which caused nearly $3.4 billion in insured losses in France and Spain.

Insured losses globally were up 10% in 2009 compared with 2008.

The sigma study said global warming, the related greater risk of extreme weather, and increasing wealth in loss-prone regions contributed to the trends. Insurers are aware of and have prepared for the greater insured costs and volatility, Swiss Re Chief Economist Thomas Hess said in a statement.

“We have already seen significant events in 2010 with Winter Storm Xynthia in Europe or the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti,” Mr. Hess said in the statement. “The industry is therefore well-advised to prepare for much higher losses. Given their high volatility, losses (in 2010) could easily be three to five times what they were in 2009.”

Mr. Hess also noted that the 2005 record of $120 billion in insured losses, given current trends and volatility, could be broken in the near future.