- FRANKFURT, Germany (Reuters) - The world suffered an unusually low number
of natural disasters in 1997 but faces a sharply rising risk in the future
from global warming and weather disruptions, the largest reinsurer said
- The good news in Munich Re's annual review
of global disasters was that 1997 saw only 530 ``large loss events,'' well
below the usual tally of 580 to 600.
- The bad news was that the long-term trend
in catastrophes remains on the dramatic increase and disasters will become
more frequent and more costly.
- Global warming, attributed to increased
greenhouse gas emissions, and weather disturbances will pose an ever greater
threat, according to Munich Re.
- Most of the damage in 1997 was done by
windstorms and floods. It was a relatively quiet year for earthquakes,
volcanic eruptions, forest fires, droughts, landslides and avalanches.
Munich Re said economic losses from such disasters came to $30 billion
in 1997, half the previous year's total. But the human toll was more severe
-- about 13,000 people killed compared to 12,000 in 1996.
- The international insurance industry
paid out around $4.5 billion as a result of natural disasters, compared
with about $9 billion the previous year.
- Windstorms were the most common disaster
-- Munich Re counted 170. Floods came second at 120 and the number of earthquakes
and volcanic eruptions was put at 100.
- ``The fact that extreme atmospheric events
accounted for such a large proportion of the losses is further evidence
for us of the expected change in the environment and climate in many regions
of the world,'' said meteorologist Gerhard Berz, who heads Munich Re's
geoscience research group.
- ``New extreme values for various atmospheric
parameters like precipitation and wind velocity will often have catastrophic
effects,'' he said in a statement.
- Munich Re said 1997's most notable disaster
was the flooding that hit central Europe during the summer. Economic losses
came to around $5.3 billion, with Poland and the Czech Republic bearing
the brunt of the damage.
- Another focus of the year was the El
Nino weather phenomenon, blamed for fueling forest fires in Indonesia and
Australia, flooding in South America and Somalia and a number of hurricanes
- ``The recurrent and long familiar El
Nino ... seems to be turning into the 'scapegoat of the year' although,
to be fair, it could also have received credit for the extremely low hurricane
activity in the North Atlantic and the Caribbean,'' the company said.
- Other big disasters included ``mighty
earth tremors'' in Italy, a number of earthquakes in Iran which claimed
2,300 lives, and two Far East typhoons that caused windstorms and flood
losses from Thailand to Japan.
- Munich Re said urgent action was needed
to limit man-made changes to the environment.
- But it warned that ``even radical environmental
protection measures cannot prevent the occurrence of ever more and ever
costlier catastrophes worldwide.''
- The increasing concentration of people
and property in major cities and the greater susceptibility of modern industrial
societies to disruptions in infrastructure would ensure that a ``dramatic
increase'' in the long-term trend of disasters would continue.
- ``Comparing the figures for the 1960s
and the last 10 years, Munich Re has established that the number of major
natural catastrophes was three times larger and cost the world's economies,
after adjusting for inflation, eight times and the insurance industry 14
times as much,'' the company said. ``A change in this development is not