By David Colmans
Last year, the natural disasters that struck across the globe were not only catastrophic from a loss of life and property perspective, but also a financial nightmare for affected individuals, businesses, insurers and governmental assistance agencies.
Here are a few numbers from what happened in the U.S. only:
· Severe Thunderstorms: 69 with 617 fatalities, and $25.8 billion in insured losses
· Winter Storms: 9 with 67 fatalities, and $2.1 billion in insured losses
· Flooding: 14 with 20 fatalities, and $535 million in insured losses
· Wildfires: 58 with 15 fatalities, and $855 million in insured losses
· Other Events: 2 with 33 fatalities, and $1 billion in insured losses
In all, U.S. insured catastrophe losses totaled $35.9 billion. The 2000 to 2010 average insured losses were $23.8 billion in 2011 dollars.
Now let's consider losses from a global perspective. MunichRe, a major worldwide reinsurance provider, pointed out in a year-end assessment, "An exceptional spate of natural catastrophes in 2011 caused insured losses totaling $105 billion, exceeding the previous record of $101 billion set in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina."
The report goes on to say, "The costliest disaster in 2011, based on insured losses, was Japan's earthquake and tsunami in March, with between $35 billion and $40 billion in insured losses, followed by the February earthquake in Christchurch New Zealand, with insured losses of $13 billion. Other costly disasters included the severe storms and tornadoes in the United States in late April, which cost insurers $7.3 billion, and Hurricane Irene, which hit the Caribbean and U.S. in late August, and caused insured losses of $7 billion. Total economic costs from natural disasters, including uninsured losses, totaled about $380 billion in 2011, far above the 2005 record of $220 billion."
MunichRe noted the cost of money in 2011 was high. That had a serious effect on insurers and other organizations that provided other financial assistance for those individuals, businesses and government agencies affected.
Of the Top 5 largest natural catastrophes in 2011, MunichRe points out that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan resulted in 15,840 fatalities, with $201 trillion in overall losses but only $35-40 billion in insured losses. Yet the 2011 fatalities from catastrophic natural disasters were actually low at 27,000 worldwide, as compared to 296,000 deaths in 2010.
While these numbers huge, this report is only for one year, and insurers face a wide range of disasters virtually every year. When one hailstorm damages hundreds of vehicles, and one tornado touching down several times as it travels along a 50-mile path of destruction can damage or destroy hundreds of homes and businesses, the math is on the side of homeowners, renters and businesses given the financial protection they receive.
This overall picture of destruction by the elements is also affected by the quality of the construction of the homes and businesses and/or the lack of building codes and their enforcement. Sadly, there are counties in Georgia with not even one building inspector, so how can any building code be enforced?
Florida, for example, has developed very strong building codes following the damage from Hurricane Andrew, which led the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS) to rate the Sunshine State a 95 on a scale of 1 to 100 earlier this year. The study was based on building code laws and their enforcement. Georgia is rated in the 60s and Alabama around 17.
Much of the damage could have been mitigated through improvements in building codes that would help structures stand up to a CAT 2 or CAT 3 hurricane or an F2 or F3 tornado.
These are issues that must be not only considered, but also addressed to ensure safer construction that can save more lives and stand up to stronger storms.
David Colmans is the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Contact him at (770) 565-3806 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.