Munich Re: Costs of catastrophes jumped in 2010

A leading reinsurer said Monday that extreme natural catastrophes in 2010, including severe earthquakes, floods and heat waves, led to the sixth-highest total of insurers' losses since 1980 and showed evidence of climate change.

Munich Re AG said in its annual review that insured losses came in at $37 billion (€27.69 billion) this year, up from $22 billion in 2009. It said total economic losses, including losses not covered by insurance, rose to $130 billion from last year's $50 billion.

"The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change," the company said in a statement.

Altogether a total of 950 natural catastrophes were recorded last year, including five "great natural catastrophes:" the earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and central China, the heat wave in Russia and the floods in Pakistan.

This total makes 2010 the year with the second-highest number of natural catastrophes since 1980, according to Munich Re.

The company wrote that 2010 not only resulted in substantial losses, but also an exceptionally high number of fatalities. More than 220,000 people were killed in the earthquake in Haiti in January, making it one of the most devastating earthquakes in the last 100 years.

The heat wave in Russia between July and September led to burning forests, with fires threatening nuclear facilities and areas where the ground had been contaminated by the radioactive fallout from Chernobyl.

"At least 56,000 people died as a result of heat and air pollution, making it the most deadly disaster in Russia's history," the reinsurer wrote.

In Pakistan, floods following extreme monsoon rainfall covered one quarter of the country for weeks. The overall loss totaled $9.5 billion — "an extremely high amount for Pakistan's emerging economy," the annual report said.

Munich Re also said that 2010 was one of the severest hurricane seasons in the past 100 years, but that, fortunately, "most of the storms remained over the open sea."

Altogether, there were 19 named tropical cyclones and 12 of these storms attained hurricane strength.

Munich Re also mentioned in its report the eruption of the volcano Eyjafjallajokull in Iceland in April, which brought European air traffic to a standstill. While there were few direct damages, the interruptions in supplies and important goods to industrial firms meant that the event ended up costing billions.