• Detailed Munich Re study "Topics geo – Annual Review of Natural Catastrophes 2003":  Thousands of people killed and injured in five major catastrophes 

  • Heat waves also a topic for insurance in the future

After three years of relative calm, no fewer than five great natural catastrophes* occurred in 2003: tornadoes/severe weather events in the United States (May), earthquake in Algeria (May), heat wave/forest fires in Europe (July to August), heat wave/drought/forest fires in the United States (October to November), and the earthquake in Iran (December). Altogether, the approx. 700 natural hazard events recorded claimed more than 75,000 lives – almost seven times as many as in the previous year. This high number of deaths is largely due to the five natural catastrophes mentioned above. What is more, they alone account for about a third of both economic and insured losses.

The study "TOPICS geo – Annual Review of Natural Catastrophes 2003" (which may be accessed as of today at www.munichre.com) analyses in detail the natural hazard events of the past year. Again it was windstorms, floods, and severe weather events that had the greatest impact on the insurers' overall claims balance. Insured losses increased to about US$ 16bn (previous year: US$ 11.5bn), while economic losses exceeded US$ 65bn (previous year: US$ 55bn).

The intensification of weather extremes and the resulting increase in loss potentials present new challenges, not least for insurers. Stefan Heyd, the Board member responsible for corporate underwriting and global clients: "Premiums for insurance protection against natural hazards will increase, in line with the growing risk. Substantial deductibles and clear-cut limits of indemnity will also be required."

* In line with definitions used by the United Nations, natural catastrophes are considered "great" if the affected regions' ability to help themselves is clearly overstretched and supraregional or international assistance is required.

New loss potentials due to heat waves

As the summer of 2003 showed, heat waves leave clear marks on the economy: cancellations in the inland cargo transportation sector (due to low water); reduced output from power plants (due to insufficient cooling water); losses in agriculture and forestry (cf. p. 20ff. in the study). More frequent heat waves will cause new substantial loss potentials and increase the demand for corresponding insurance protection (e.g. for crop losses or loss of earnings due to low water). The insurance industry must prepare itself for a deterioration in the risk situation. Climate researchers believe that given an average increase in temperature of just 2ºC, as is to be expected in central Europe by the middle of the century, extreme heat and heavy rain will occur much more frequently than has been the case up to now. Contrary forecasts, sometimes based on the premise of the Gulf Stream collapsing, are considered by climatologists to be speculative and not very probable.

What effect does this unusual heat have on human beings?

This is another question investigated in the study: it reveals that in New York and Shanghai, for example, about three times as many people die on extremely hot days than on normal warm days. The study also refers to an investigation into the connections between the number of road accidents and various weather parameters: there are generally about 20% more road accidents on hot days than on cool days
(see p. 25 in the study).


  • TOPICSgeo Natural catastrophes 2003
  • TOPICSgeo Woldmap
  • MRNatCat Poster


The printed version is scheduled to appear at the middle of March.

Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft

signed Heyd          signed Küppers

This media information contains forward-looking statements that are based on current assumptions and forecasts of the management of Munich Re. Known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors could lead to material differences between the forward-looking statements given here and the actual development, in particular the results, financial situation and performance of Munich Re. The Company assumes no liability to update these forward-looking statements or to conform them to future events or developments.

Further Information

For media inquiries please contact:
Dr. Gerhard Berz
Dr. Gerhard Berz
+49 (89) 3891-5290
Peter Höppe
Peter Höppe
Head of Geo Risks Research/Corporate Climate Centre
Munich Re (until 31.12.2017)
Thomas Loster
Thomas Loster
+49 (89) 3891-5287