March 23rd, 2009

2008 Natural Catastrophe Summary

Posted at 1:00 AM ET

hurricaneCaroline Gray, Instrat®

Natural catastrophe losses of more than USD200 billion made 2008 the third most expensive year for catastrophe losses1 — surpassed only by 2005 (Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma) and 1995 (Kobe earthquake). Last year was also one of the deadliest, with more than 220,000 estimated fatalities from natural catastrophe events.2 More than 135,000 people were killed in Myanmar3 after Cyclone Nargis’ high winds and a massive storm surge hit the country and devastated many low-lying areas. Also in Asia, China was affected by a deadly catastrophe when a powerful earthquake struck Sichuan Province, killing at least 70,000 people with another 18,000 still missing.4

Although the number of natural catastrophe events fell from 960 in 2007 to 750 in 2008, the human cost and economic/insured losses rose considerably. Of the USD200 billion in economic losses, USD45 billion was insured. Hurricane Ike contributed the largest insured loss — approximately USD15 billion according to Munich Re and USD20 billion according to Swiss Re.

Natural Catastrophe Summary

Insured losses associated with natural catastrophes in 2008 totalled USD45 billion, considerably higher than USD30 billion in 2007 and USD15 billion in 2006.5 Natural catastrophe losses in 2008 had more of an impact on property insurers than man-made or technological events, as they have done every year since 1990 (with the exception of the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States). Eight events with insured losses exceeding USD1 billion occurred in 2008, with the two highest losses triggered by tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic basin. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike hit the U.S. Gulf Coast in September, causing widespread damage. According to Munich Re, the two storms caused a combined insured loss of USD20 billion (with Ike accounting for USD15 billion and Gustav USD5 billion). Swiss Re reported the losses from the two storms at USD24 billion (Ike causing a loss of USD20 billion and Gustav USD4 billion). Hurricane Ike has been ranked provisionally as the fourth most damaging system in U.S. history (for more information on Hurricane Ike, and other 2008 tropical cyclones, please refer to out our 2008 Tropical Cyclone Review publication).

China was hit by two catastrophic events - a severe winter storm in January and February and a powerful earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in May. China suffered enormous losses from the winter storm, with the economic cost reaching USD21 billion and the insured loss totalling around USD1.6 billion.6 In Europe, meanwhile, Windstorm Emma caused widespread destruction in March as it hit northern and eastern regions of the continent. Winds of up to 95 mph (155 kmph) left a trail of destruction and disruption in the UK, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Poland as cars were blown off roads, roofs were ripped off houses, and trees were downed. According to reports, Windstorm Emma caused an overall loss of USD2 billion1 and insured losses of between USD1.4 billion7 and USD1.5 billion,8 with Germany accounting for the bulk of the total.



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Guy Carpenter’s Instrat® department provides CAT-i reports for major natural catastrophes worldwide. These reports cover catastrophes including worldwide tropical cyclones, earthquakes, major UK and European floods and any other natural event that is likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Instrat also provides RISK-i reports for major technological or man-made events worldwide. These reports cover risks to property, transport and life including explosions, fires, crashes, engineering disasters and terrorist attacks that are likely to incur a significant loss to the (re)insurance industry. Please email if you wish to be added to the free email distribution list.

Additional Contributor:


  1. Munich Re - Press Release 29 December 2008
  2. Ibid.
  3. Munich Re - Press Release 29 December 2008, Swiss Re - Press Release 18 December 2008
  4. Munich Re - Press Release 29 December 2008
  5. Ibid.
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