A Disastrous Half Year

With the death toll in Tibet from the recent northern Indian earthquake reaching seven, it is timely to remember that it has been a horrible year for disasters, and earthquakes in particular. Those in Japan and New Zealand were especially tragic and costly. Swiss Re, a reinsurance company, has completed its half yearly preliminary estimate of the cost of natural and manmade disasters worldwide. January to June saw economic losses of $278 billion, up from $166 billion in the same period of 2010. The Japanese quake and tsunami accounted for three quarters of the losses in the first half this year. Insured losses were $70 billion, up from $29 billion a year earlier. It was the second worse first half of the year since Sigma started keeping track.

Despite the severe drought and flooding in various parts of China in the first half of this year (and continuing into the second half, with the death toll topping 100 and more flooding possible as southern coasts brace  for Typhoons Nesat and Haitang), the country escaped the worst wrath of the weather. No Chinese event made the list of the five costliest disasters of the first half. However, one does in terms of the heaviest cost of all, life. The floods and landslides in June killed 305 people, which is fourth on Sigma’s list after the Japanese earthquake (20,362 victims), January’s floods and earthquakes in Brazil (>900) and the severe storms and tornadoes in the U.S. in April (354).

At this point, Swiss Re’s tally does not include what it calls “the full humanitarian and economic consequences of severe drought that caused wildfires and crop losses” in several parts of the world, including China. The full year report will likely make for grim reading.

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