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Natural Disasters

Hurricanes cause record losses in 2017 - The year in figures

In terms of overall losses, 2017 was the second-costliest year ever for natural disasters. Losses from weather-related disasters broke all previous records.

At US$ 330bn, overall losses in 2017 were far greater even than those in the extreme years of 2005 and 2008. Only the record year of 2011 with losses of US$ 350bn, due mainly to the Tohoku earthquake and floods in Thailand, has seen higher loss figures.
Insured losses in 2017 came to US$ 135bn, the highest figure in the period from 1980 to 2017. The Munich Re NatCatSERVICE recorded 710 relevant loss events, which is above the average for the last ten years. The average for the last decade is 605 registered events per year, compared with just 490 events over the last 30 years. The event statistics include all relevant loss events, based on different threshold values for property losses according to a country’s level of development. The statistics also include all loss events with fatalities.

Losses from natural catastrophes 1980-2017: Volatility of loss volumes is increasing

Losses significantly higher than average

Both overall and insured losses from natural disasters in 2017 were significantly higher than the corresponding averages for the last ten years, which, after adjustment for inflation, amount to US$ 170bn and US$ 49bn respectively. The hurricane season in the North Atlantic proved particularly costly, accounting for US$ 215bn in overall losses, of which US$ 92bn is expected to be insured. There were also two earthquakes in Mexico with a combined loss of over US$ 8bn, and widespread flooding in China which caused losses of more than US$ 6bn. Severe wildfires were raging in the USA until the end of the year. Losses from the October fires alone exceeded US$ 10bn, with the bulk of this amount – more than US$ 8bn – insured. By the end of the year therefore, losses from wildfires are likely to be substantially higher.
Roughly 93% of all events worldwide in 2017 were weather-related disasters. The macroeconomic impact was in the region of US$ 320bn, of which some US$ 133bn was insured. This makes 2017 the costliest year ever in terms of global weather disasters.
The long-term average for meteorological events since 1980 is around 41% of the overall nat cat claims burden. At 81%, the figure for 2017 represents a significant deviation from this average, and the proportion of insured losses is as high as 89%. In contrast, floods and climatological events each accounted for just 8%, and geophysical events for 3% of losses.

Losses from weather catastrophes in 2017 the highest ever

Number of events

The 2017 distribution of loss events according to the principal peril groups of geophysical, meteorological, hydrological and climatological events showed a trend towards a greater number of floods. This type of hazard, which includes both river flooding and flash floods, accounted for 47% of loss events. The long-term average is around 40%. There were only minor changes in the other hazards, which comprised 50 earthquakes, 250 windstorms, 335 floods and 75 climatological events, such as wildfires, droughts and winter damage.
The 710 events recorded as relevant means that 2017 will join the list of years with the highest number of natural disasters: the 600 mark has been exceeded only five times, all of them in the last six years. A total of 19 events fall into Category 4, for especially devastating disasters. Almost two thirds of all the natural disasters registered occurred in North America, the Caribbean, Central America or Asia. This was above the long-term average of 59%.

2017 joins the list of years with the highest number of natural catastrophes

Slight increase in the number of fatalities

The number of people worldwide who lost their lives in natural disasters in 2017 was some 10,000. Regrettably, this was a higher figure than in the previous year (9,650). However, compared to earlier periods, the year at least follows the long-term trend towards a reduction in the number of victims. The 10-year average, for example, is approximately 60,000, and the 30-year average 53,000.

Roughly two thirds of the fatalities in 2017 were from natural disasters in Asia, followed by 11% each in Africa and North America, and 4% in Europe.
The deadliest events over the last year were devastating floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh that were triggered by powerful monsoon rains. Some 2,700 people lost their lives there between June and October. An earthquake in Iran claimed the lives of almost 600 people, while a landslide killed 500 in Sierra Leone. Once again, a striking feature is that far more people die in natural disasters in emerging and developing countries than in industrialised countries, where protective measures are much more extensive and effective.

Once again, far more people died in natural disasters in emerging countries than in industrialised countries


  • North America (including the Caribbean and Central America)
    The continent of North America, including the Caribbean and Central America, accounted for 83% of overall losses and 93% of insured losses worldwide. Approximately 160 events were recorded. There were 13 events that resulted in overall losses of more than US$ 1bn, with much higher losses coming from the major hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. There were also two earthquakes in Mexico, and wildfires and severe weather in the USA. The overall losses from severe thunderstorms, or so-called convective events, came to US$ 25.4bn. Almost three quarters of this was insured.
Both overall and insured losses in North America were unusually high in 2017
  • South America
    Between January and March, heavy rain triggered floods and landslides in Peru and Colombia that resulted in billion-dollar losses. Almost 500 people were killed. Chile and Argentina also experienced raging wildfires. Overall losses here totalled US$ 4.3bn, of which about US$ 400m was insured.
  • Europe
    In Europe, there were two events that each caused billions in overall economic losses. Mid-April saw the sudden return of winter over Europe, leading to heavy losses in the agricultural sector, particularly in fruit growing. The overall loss came to US$ 3.6bn (€3.3bn), of which less than US$ 650m (€600m) was insured. Dry weather and drought in large parts of southern and southeast Europe also caused overall losses of US$ 3.8bn (€3.5bn). Only a small proportion of this was insured. In October, Winter Storms Herwart and Xavier swept over Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, causing aggregate economic losses of more than €800m, of which €600 million was insured.
  • Africa
    A landslide in Sierra Leone was the natural disaster with the second-highest number of fatalities: roughly 500 people were killed. Two tropical cyclones – Enawo and Dinio – struck Madagascar and southern Africa in February and March. Overall losses of approximately
    US$ 300m were registered. Only a small proportion was insured. In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, hot weather and no rain between January and September led to drought losses of US$ 950m. In South Africa, two events resulted in significant losses: extensive wildfires and flash floods. The overall loss in each case was in the mid-hundreds of millions of dollars, of which roughly half was insured.
  • Asia
    Asia accounted for 43% of all events, 68% of all fatalities, 10% of all overall losses, and 2% of all insured losses. The relative burden for the continent remained moderate because of the enormous loss burden from hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the absence of any extreme loss events. But even when measured against the absolute amounts, the natural disaster year in Asia was more favourable than average. However, there were still five events that exceeded the US$ 1bn threshold for overall losses. India, Bangladesh and Nepal were hit by severe monsoon rains. The bulk of insured losses were incurred in tropical cyclones that hit Japan, China and the Philippines. Approximately US$ 2.2bn of these losses was insured.
Insurance gap remains large in many parts of the world
  • Australia/Oceania
    Apart from weather disasters that caused an overall loss of US$ 3.6bn, Australia and Oceania were largely spared from natural disasters in 2017. Insured losses came to almost US$ 2bn. In late March/early April, Cyclone Debby passed over Australia, causing the region’s highest overall loss in 2017 of US$ 2.7bn. Of this, US$ 1.4bn was insured.
Further Information
Munich Re Experts
Petra Löw
Head of NatCatSERVICE
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Barry Gardiner
Thank you for another comprehensive review of the impacts of natural events around the world. These reports are extremely valuable for those of us concerned with natural risk (in my case risks to forests) and how this appears to be changing with a changing climate.
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