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Swiss Re Says 2011 Natural Disasters Cost Insurers $110 Billion

Swiss Re Ltd., the world’s second-biggest reinsurer, said natural catastrophes cost the insurance industry $110 billion last year after record flooding and earthquake losses.

At $49 billion, 2011 was the costliest year in terms of insured earthquake losses after temblors in Japan and New Zealand, while floods in Thailand caused $12 billion of losses, “the highest insured losses ever for a single flood event,” the Zurich-based company said in an e-mailed statement. Claims from man-made disasters were $6 billion.

Economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters stood at $370 billion, compared with $226 billion the year before, mainly driven by the magnitude-9 earthquake and the subsequent tsunami that hit the coast of Tohoku, east Japan on March 11 last year.

“Two-thirds of the staggering $370 billion in economic damage will be shouldered by corporations, governments, relief organizations, and ultimately individuals, pointing to the still widespread lack of insurance protection worldwide,” said Swiss Re’s chief economist, Kurt Karl.

The Japan quake cost the industry $35 billion, making it the most expensive earthquake on record. The insurance industry will bear only 17 percent of that cost because of Japan’s low earthquake insurance protection, Swiss Re said.

“Had Japan been more fully insured, 2011 would certainly have been the most expensive year ever also in terms of insured losses,” according to Lucia Bevere, a senior catastrophe data analyst at the reinsurer.

With $123 billion in insured losses, 2005 remains the costliest year for the industry following hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

In addition to the quakes and floods, an “unparalleled” tornado season in the U.S. caused claims of $25 billion.

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