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Tokyo Storm Warning on Swiss Re's Urban Disaster List

Tokyo's Shinjuku district

Photograph by Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Tokyo's Shinjuku district

Batten down the hatches: Insurance giant Swiss Re (SREN:VX) sees worsening natural disasters on the horizon.

In a new report (PDF), Swiss Re assessed 616 urban areas around the world for their risk of calamitous damage from five “perils”: earthquake, storm, storm surge, tsunami, and river flood. Asian cities are the most at risk, and things look especially grim for Tokyo. Some 29 million people in the Tokyo-Yokohama region, for example, could be affected by a major earthquake. “Considering all perils [the Tokyo metropolis] is the world’s most exposed urban area, followed by Manila and the Pearl River Delta in China,” the report said.

Outside Asia, Los Angeles is the most at-risk city, ranking ninth globally in Swiss Re’s table of apocalypse. All the findings can be found here (PDF).

The dire upshot of the report, not coincidentally, redounds to Swiss Re’s pecuniary benefit. Municipalities need to spend untold billions to prepare for disaster—and insurance ought to be part of the package, according to the findings.

The company left no doubt that global warming provides part of the impetus for its alarm. “Climate adaptation is an urgent priority for national and city authorities,” Swiss Re said. “While many adaptation measures are available to make cities more resilient to the impact of climate change, decision makers need to identify the most cost-effective investments.” Swiss Re has done a number of climate-related studies, and “all present a strong case for immediate action: It is cheaper to start adapting now than to bear the costs of future disasters tomorrow.”

Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador.

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