New loss record
Eastern Turkey was hit by another strong earthquake on 23 October. In 2011, more losses were attributable to geophysical events than meteorological events. It is mainly because of the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand that 2011 will go down in history as the year with the highest economic losses ever incurred from natural hazard events. Insured losses, by contrast, will be below the record level of 2005, when hurricanes Rita, Wilma and Katrina struck.
On Sunday, 23 October 2011, at 1.41 p.m. local time, the province of Van in eastern Turkey was rocked by a strong 7.2 magnitude earthquake. According to current estimates, the quake caused 600 fatalities, with 1,650 people injured. Ercis and Van were the cities most seriously affected. The earthquake was the worst Turkey had seen since 1999. On 10 November, further tremors measuring 5.7 on the Richter Scale shook the earth.
On the basis of the latest claims notifications, some 1,000 houses were destroyed, including a number of multi-storey buildings in Ercis and Van. Even though the country's earthquake building codes are based on the latest standards, many buildings are not constructed in accordance with them. Eastern Anatolia is a very poor region where building materials are expensive and controls questionable. Many houses are simple mud-brick structures that could collapse after even mild tremors.
The location and severity of the event did not come as a surprise to experts. The epicentre was situated in a well-known hazard zone in eastern Turkey that has often been the site of strong quakes.
2011 shows more losses due to earthquakes than severe weather events and windstorms
The claims we calculated using a simulation with our earthquake model for this region correspond to the ground movements and losses documented on 23 October. The insured loss expected will be relatively low, since the region does not have a high insurance penetration and there is also little industry established there. The state insurance pool TCIP has concluded only a small amount of policies for the area.
However, that does not alter the fact that 2011 is already regarded as the most expensive natural catastrophe year ever. In the first nine months alone, economic losses from natural catastrophes amounted to US$ 310bn. Whilst in the previous record year 2005, hurricanes Rita, Wilma and Katrina were responsible for the record losses, in 2011 it was the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand. This situation is very untypical and has only occurred twice in the past 31 years. 2011 will be a very expensive year for the insurance industry as well, since the level of insurance penetration for earthquake has increased significantly over the past years.
Opinions, figures and analyses on the events in Japan, New Zealand and Turkey can be found in TOPICS GEO – Natural catastrophes 2011, due for publication in February 2012.