Press releases

Wednesday 30 Oct 2002

Natural Disasters Set to Cost Over $ 70 Billion

Insurers Warn of Mounting Price Tag of Climate Change at COP8 Meeting

Insurers Warn of Mounting Price Tag of Climate Change at COP8 Meeting

Delhi/Nairobi, 30 October 2002 - Record-breaking rains, triggering devastating floods in Europe, destruction of homes across the Caribbean and life-threatening mudslides in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, have been a key feature of 2002.

Natural catastrophes, the vast majority of which have been weather-related, have cost countries and communities an estimated $56 billion during the period January to September 2002, a preliminary study shows. The final bill for this year's natural disasters could thus be over $70 billion.

Typhoon Rusa, which hit South Korea in late August and early September, downed 24,000 power lines, destroyed 645 ships, resulted in the deaths of 300,000 livestock and cost $ 6.6 billion, the report says.

Meanwhile insured losses are running at an estimated $ 9 billion over the same period. For example the August floods in Europe, the worst in 150 years, flooded buildings, swept away cars, damaged railway, power and communications lines and killed more than 100 people. Insured losses are to date estimated at between $ 2 and $5 billion.

The findings, announced at the 8th Committee of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in New Delhi, India, have come from experts at Munich Re.

The re-insurance company, a member of the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Finance Initiative, has since the 1970s been compiling annual records on natural catastrophes and their costs.

Thomas Loster, a member of the team, said: "There have been over 500 major natural disasters already this year, killing thousands of people, making hundreds of thousands homeless and affecting millions. Many of the atmospheric events we have recorded were extreme".

"Rain intensities reached unique values, marking all-time records in the statistics of the meteorologists and climate scientists. There have been, for example, the floods in Chile, Jamaica, Nepal, Spain and France and the summer floods in Germany where annual precipitation averages were reached in the course of only one or two days. We have, once more, strong indications that global warming is increasing and will thus have serious affects on societies and economies alike," he said.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said: "Climate change, linked with human-made emissions, is already underway. The world is facing a rise in extreme, weather, events of the kind witnessed in 2002 that will impact on every facet of life including agriculture, health, water supplies and wildlife. It will be the poorer parts of the world, the poorer people, who will suffer most because they have neither the financial or other resources to cope".

"The industrialized nations must do all they can to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, the first step of which is to ratify the Kyoto Protocol so it can come into force. However we must go further and, at the same time, take action to help the poorer parts of the world adapt, to help them cope with the more unstable and more extreme environments likely in the coming decades," he said.

"Adaptation is one of the key themes of the COP8 here in Delhi. The meeting does not come in isolation. It comes only weeks after the close of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) where we have been given the clear call to action to fight poverty and deliver sustainable development. We must urgently look at how to marry the issues and actions needed to deal with climate change with the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. We must also see how new funds, pledged in the run up to WSSD, can be harnessed with those agreed under the Kyoto Protocol so as to boost food, water and health security. That is the challenge of delivering sustainable development in a climate-changed world. This is not charity, the richer parts of the world have a debt to pay as a result of the gases they have been pumping into the atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. It is high time that debt was re-paid so that developing nations can not only cope but also be helped onto a sustainable, economic, path, that avoids the mistakes made by industrialized nations" said Mr Toepfer.

He also unveiled a separate report at the meeting, Vital Climate Graphics Africa, which includes simple, clear, and no-frills images on the likely impacts of global warming on this Continent including one on the numbers and location of people impacted by natural disasters between 1971 and 2000.

The Vital Climate Graphics Africa have been UNEP-Grid Arendal in Norway and are available at www.grida.no

The Munich Re report, part of its Topics series, says there have been an estimated 526 significant natural disasters in the first nine months of 2002 with the highest in Asia, 195; followed by the Americas, 149; Europe, 99; Australasia, 45 and Africa, 38.

Over 9,400 people have been killed as a result with the vast majority, over 8,000, in Asia. Economic losses are estimated at $56.4 billion with Europe suffering the most. Europe's economic losses for the first nine months of the year from natural disasters are so far estimated to be almost $33 billion followed by Asia, $14.8 billion and North America, $7.7 billion.

Insured losses have so far cost the industry $9 billion with insured losses in Europe the highest at over $ 6 billion.

The report underscores the high level of rain-related natural catastrophes. One third of the 526 natural catastrophes in 2002 were floods. In total, there were more windstorm-related natural disasters. But floods killed more people and cost far more than windstorms, earthquakes or other natural catastrophes.

The report estimates that 42 per cent of fatalities; 66 per cent of the economic losses and 64 per cent of insured losses were due to floods.

Windstorms, including hurricanes and tornadoes, accounted for 13 per cent of fatalities; 23 per cent of economic losses and 34 per cent of insured losses.

Notes to Editors

Some Other Significant, Weather-Related, Natural Catastrophes Around the World in 2002

Between 11 January and 22 February, floods and landslides damaged or destroyed 100,000 houses in Indonesia and killed an estimated 150 people. There were also severe agricultural and infrastructure losses and drinking water was contaminated. Economic losses were an estimated $350 million. Insured losses were $200 million.

The winter storm Anna, where wind speeds reached up to 180 kilometres an hour, caused damage to buildings and infrastructure in Germany and the United Kingdom. Three people died and economic losses are estimated at $500 million. Insured losses were $300 million.

Between March and April, parts of Ecuador suffered floods and landslides. 1,500Km of roads were damaged or destroyed as well as losses to agriculture and fisheries. Twenty three people died and economic losses are estimated at $13 million.

Spain and the Canary Islands had record rainfall, triggering flash floods, in late March/early April. Houses and cars were damaged and 50,000 people without electricity. Economic losses are estimated at $100 million.

Between late April and early May, tornadoes and severe storms hit several states in the United States damaging thousands of homes and killing 10 people. Economic losses are estimated at $ 1 billion with insurance bill priced at $855 million.

In June, floods and landslides claimed the lives of 500 people in central and west China. 1.5 million homes were damaged and nearly 600,000 destroyed. There were also severe agriculture and infrastructure losses. The economic cost is estimated at $3.1 billion.

Over 60,000 homes were damaged at 10,000 destroyed when floods and landslides hit parts of Russia including Dagestan between mid-June and mid-July. 340 towns were affected and bridges, roads, gas pipes and an oil refinery were damaged. 117 people were killed and economic losses are put at $450 million.

Between July and and August, floods and mudslides triggered by record rainfall killed 1,300 people in Bangladesh, Nepal and parts of India including Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and East Bengal. Tens of thousands of villages were flooded and hundreds of thousands of houses destroyed. 27 people were evacuated or made homeless. One fifth of Bangladesh was affected. Economic losses are estimated at $80 million.

The severest drought in a century affected 800,000 people in eastern and northern China, especially in Shandong, between August and September. Economic losses are estimated at $1.2 billion.

Hurricane Lili, which started sweeping over the Caribbean and the United States on 23 September, reached wind speeds exceeding 230Km/hr. Oil ports were closed, 500,000 people were evacuated and there have been industrial losses. The economic cost is estimated to be $ 2 billion with insured losses in the region of $ 600 million.

For More Information and a Copy of the Report Please Contact: Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org Mobile when in Delhi (26 October to 1 November) is 1 917 378 8818

UNEP News Release

Wednesday 30 Oct 2002
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