In 2009, natural catastrophes will have cost insurers roughly $21 billion, and man-made disasters will trigger additional claims of approximately $3 billion, according to Swiss Re’s sigma study, “Natural and man-made catastrophes in 2009.” Total insured losses had soared to more than $50 billion worldwide in 2008. Swiss Re attributes the lower figure for 2009 to the calm U.S. hurricane season.

“In 2009, we [thankfully] saw no such event like Hurricane Katrina, which caused $71 billion in losses back in 2005,” says Thomas Hess, chief economist of Swiss Re. “We were lucky, but that may not be the case next year. Though losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters have continuously trended upwards in the past twenty years, we still see high volatility from year to year.”

The study, which will be published in spring 2010, says claims from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters during the first seven months of 2009 were nearly double the average over the last 20 years. Between January and July, five events each triggered insured losses in excess of $1 billion. The costliest event was winter storm Klaus, which struck France and Spain in January, and led to insured losses of $3.5 billion. A July hailstorm that hit Switzerland and Austria cost insurers another $1.25 billion. In the United States, a winter storm and two tornadoes generated total insured losses of roughly $3.5 billion.

Worldwide, approximately 12,000 people were killed by catastrophes in 2009, compared to 240,000 in 2008. The death toll in 2009 was among the lowest of the last 20 years. The region most affected was Asia, where a September earthquake in Indonesia claimed more than 1,000 lives. Another 2,000 people died when three typhoons struck the region between August and October.

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