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Munich Re’s Geo Risks Research unit engages in a wide range of activities. Thinking outside the box is one of the most important attributes for a globally active reinsurer. Innovation, creativity and a wealth of ideas, in combination with detailed expert knowledge, ensure progress and development in the markets.


High-resolution satellite data have been used for many years to assess loss events in the post-event appraisal process. New satellite and analysis techniques can greatly enhance practical application and provide prompt, high-quality loss estimates, while at the same time eliminating the need to dispatch an army of loss adjusters to the scene. But the processes used here have to be adapted to the needs of the insurance industry. Our experts are ideally placed to assist with this task, having both the technical background and experience working with these systems.

Being able to model earthquake events and represent them in three-dimensional form opens up new possibilities to gain a better understanding of the extreme forces that are at work in massive earthquakes. Munich Re has launched a cooperation initiative in this fascinating area with the Polytechnic University of Milan. The intensity of severe thunderstorms has increased in both the USA and Europe over the last few years. Hail, in particular, costs the insurance industry billions each year.

How have loss events worldwide developed over the last few decades, and what are the reasons for this trend? These are topics that Munich Re has been investigating in detail for a very long time. The methods used for this are being constantly refined, adjusted and improved to the state of the art. Any trends and the reasons for them can only be identified and analysed in the context of socio-economic changes in values.

The year in figures – Global

Following the record-breaking year of 2011, the figures for 2015 marked the fourth year in a row with low losses from natural catastrophes. Despite the moderate claims burden, thanks largely to the absence of extreme catastrophes, overall losses in 2015 came to US$ 100bn, of which US$ 30bn was insured. Overall losses were below the average of US$ 180bn for the last ten years, and also below the long-term average for the last 30 years of US$ 130bn. Insured losses, on the other hand, were not far short of the loss burden from 2014 (US$ 31bn) and also the long-term average for the last 30 years (US$ 34bn). Some 23,000 people lost their lives in natural catastrophes last year. The figure was three times that of the previous year, which, with around 7,700 fatalities, remains one of the lowest years on record for the number of victims.

In terms of the number of events, the trend towards greater and more detailed reporting continued, with the total number further increasing to 1,060 events. The biggest increase was seen in minor loss events, although the figures for these are subject to some uncertainty. On this subject, see the article on page 62, which looks in detail at the question of the comparability of past and current events.

Number of events

Loss events are divided into four main groups: last year, 6% resulted from geophysical events (earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption), representing the biggest deviation from the long-term average of 12%. Some 94% were weather-related catastrophes, 41% attributable to storms and 42% floods. 11% were droughts, heatwaves and forest fires, which are designated as climatological events. The distribution of weather events to the different perils is in line with the long-term average.


With 23,000 fatalities, 2015 was below the 10-year and 30-year averages. This notwithstanding, there were some extremely serious events. 80% affected the continent of Asia, a substantially higher figure than the long-term average of approximately 70%. The deadliest catastrophe by far was the series of earthquakes that struck Nepal and the neighbouring states of India, China and Bangladesh at the end of April, claiming the lives of some 9,000 people. This places the event among the fifteen deadliest earthquakes since 1980. A heatwave in May and June took the lives of almost 3,700 people in India and Pakistan. In Europe as well, hot, dry weather produced extreme heat stress, from which more than 1,200 people died.


The aggregate losses from natural catastrophes over the last year amounted to US$ 100bn. 31 events exceeded the billion-dollar threshold. These included events like the earthquake in Nepal, winter storms in the USA, Canada and Europe, typhoons in China, Japan and the Philippines, extensive flooding in the United Kingdom, and droughts on virtually every continent. In a long-term comparison, the claims burden from geophysical events fell from 22% to 7%, while the figure for storms increased from an average of 40% to 47%. Hydrological events, at around 28%, have remained at roughly the same level. Climatological events rose from an average of 13% to 18%. Droughts play a particular role in this context, seriously affecting the agricultural sectors in the USA, Canada, Europe and China.

The Munich Re NatCatSERVICE estimates the claims burden for the global insurance industry in 2015 at approximately US$ 30bn. As with the overall loss amount, this represents the fourth year in succession with a reduction in insured losses, and is the lowest value since 2009. North America accounted for 58% of all insured losses, Europe 19%, Australia and Asia 8% and 12% respectively, and South America 3%. Among the costliest events was a series of winter storms in the USA and Canada that caused insured losses of US$ 2.1bn. Storms in the USA in April and May resulted in insured losses of US$ 1.2bn and US$ 1.4bn respectively. As the year came to an end, Winter storm Goliath notched up insured losses of around US$ 550m, with violent storms, tornadoes, heavy rain and snowstorms in the southwest of the USA. The storm system claimed 45 lives.

Outside North America, it was Europe and Asia that were the main regions affected. Winter storm Niklas swept through Europe in March/April, and at the end of the year, Winter storms Desmond and Eva also brought widespread flooding to the United Kingdom. Overall, the losses in Europe for the insurance industry amounted to almost US$ 5bn. In August, Typhoon Goni struck Japan, Korea and the Philippines, causing insured losses of US$ 1.4bn. The Australian insurance market was also affected by several large events in 2015, including a major storm with hail and flash floods, and a winter storm in April. Overall losses for 2015 in the continent amounted to approximately US$ 2bn.

The year in figures – Regional

North America
Around 22% of all global loss events in 2015 were recorded in North America (including Central America and the Caribbean). They caused the deaths of around 800 people. Of the direct overall losses of US$ 30bn, more than half – US$ 17bn – were insured losses. Ten events exceeded the billion-dollar threshold for overall losses, with three of these exceeding US$ 1bn in insured losses. These events included winter storms, severe storms and floods in both the USA and Canada. The total burden from loss events for the USA alone came to US$ 24bn, of which US$ 14bn was insured. Some regions of both the USA and Canada were affected by extreme drought in 2015, which mainly impacted agricultural production and caused overall losses of more than US$ 2bn. The 2015 hurricane season was moderate. Aggregate losses from tropical storms in the Atlantic were only US$ 1.5bn, well below the average figures of recent years.

South America
Approximately 100 loss events were recorded in South America in 2015. Flooding, flash floods and severe storms claimed the lives of 370 people and caused direct overall losses of just under US$ 2bn. There was also a series of smaller earthquakes, and a powerful earthquake in Chile that triggered tsunami waves. The magnitude of the strongest quake measured Mw 8.3, with the epicentre in the province of Araucania. Aggregate losses were US$ 800m, of which US$ 350m was insured. 

Europe accounted for 13% of all loss events worldwide in 2015. Almost 1,600 people were killed, with the heatwaves in the summer months claiming the most lives. The overall loss from all events came to just under US$ 13bn. The insured loss totalled US$ 5.6bn. At the end of March and beginning of April, Winter Storm Niklas caused widespread damage, primarily in Germany but also in other parts of Europe. At the end of the year, Winter Storms Desmond and Eva brought wide-scale flooding to the United Kingdom, causing overall losses of almost US$ 3bn, roughly US$ 2bn of which was insured. There were also small-scale regional events with high losses in 2015. Storms involving heavy rain bring the additional risk of flash floods. Just such a flood occurred at the end of September on the French Riviera, where 20 people were killed. The storm front also passed over Spain and Italy. The insured loss came to a total of US$ 700m. In contrast, eastern Europe and parts of central Europe experienced a very dry year in 2015, with high temperatures and a serious shortage of rainfall. In Romania in particular, but also in Poland and the Czech Republic, a drought seriously affected agricultural production. The overall loss is estimated to be around US$ 1.5bn. 

The African continent was affected almost exclusively by weather-related events in 2015. The most significant of these were droughts, floods, severe storms and two tropical cyclones. A total of around 100 loss events were recorded. Overall losses amounted to US$ 3bn, of which only a small portion was insured. Around 1,700 people died, mainly in flooding and flash floods. The costliest events in 2015 were two periods of drought – one in southern Africa and the other in Ethiopia. The overall loss for these two events came to US$ 2bn.

Asia accounted for 39% of all loss events recorded worldwide, for 80% of global fatalities, and 44% of overall losses, but only 12% of insured losses. 13 events reached or exceeded overall losses of US$ 1bn. At the end of April, a series of earthquakes rocked parts of South Asia, causing devastation above all in Nepal, where over 500,000 houses and public buildings were destroyed. The overall loss came to approximately US$ 4.8bn and the death toll was 9,000. Bangladesh, China and India were also affected, with an overall loss of almost US$ 500m. From July to November, India was repeatedly afflicted by serious floods. As a result of heavy monsoon rains, many rivers burst their banks. Overall losses were divided between two main events, and came to a total of US$ 5bn. The cost for the insurance industry was approximately US$ 800m. The extremely active typhoon season resulted in losses of US$ 11.5bn. Extensive areas of Asia were also afflicted by droughts and forest fires. Special mention should be made in this context to the forest fires in Indonesia which, exacerbated by the extremely dry conditions and deliberate slash and burn practices, left the region shrouded in smog for months. 

2015 in this region was dominated by weather events, with a total of 80 recorded. The costliest event for the economy as a whole, and for the insurance industry, was a winter storm that struck New South Wales in April, causing losses of US$ 1.3bn. Of this, US$ 730m was insured. Cyclone Marcia made landfall in Queensland. The overall loss burden from natural catastrophes in Australia was US$ 3.9bn, of which US$ 2.1bn was insured. Cyclone Pam swept over Vanuatu, the Fiji Islands and Kiribati. Economic losses from Marcia and Pam came to US$ 1.3bn, while the insured loss was US$ 550m. New Zealand was largely spared major events in 2015, with approximately US$ 200m from minor flash floods and local flooding.
Percentage distribution by continents
Percentage distribution by continents
Insured losses as a percentage of overall losses for each continent