Preliminary sigma estimates: Total losses from disaster events rise to USD 158 billion in 2016


  • Total economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters are estimated to be USD 158 billion in 2016;
  • Insured losses from disaster events were around USD 49 billion;
  • Approximately 10 000 people lost their lives in disaster events in 2016;
  • Earthquakes, hail and thunderstorms, and Hurricane Matthew resulted in the largest insurance losses in 2016.

Zurich (Dec. 19, 2016) – Total economic losses from natural and man-made disasters in 2016 were at least USD 158 billion. This is significantly higher than the USD 94 billion losses in 2015 and was caused by large natural catastrophes, such as earthquakes and floods, according to preliminary sigma estimates. Insured losses were also higher in 2016 at around USD 49 billion, compared to USD 37 billion in the previous year. However, the gap between total losses and insured losses in 2016 shows that many events took place in areas where insurance coverage was low. Losses resulting from man-made disasters fell to USD 7 billion from USD 9 billion in 2015. Globally, there were approximately 10 000 victims in disaster events in 2016.

Natural catastrophes accounted for USD 150 billion of the total economic losses in 2016. Insured losses from natural catastrophe events were USD 42 billion in 2016, up from USD 28 billion in 2015, but slightly below the annual average of the previous 10 years (USD 46 billion). Man-made disasters triggered an additional USD 7 billion in insurance claims in 2016.

Earthquake losses reveal schisms in insurance coverage needs

There were a number of major earthquakes across the world in 2016, for example in Taiwan, Japan, Ecuador, Italy and New Zealand. Among the largest was the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck the Kumamoto prefecture in Japan on 16 April 2016, part of a series of strong shocks and aftershocks in the region. The quakes resulted in extensive structural damage, fires and collapsed buildings, and claimed 137 lives. The total economic cost was at least USD 20 billion, of which USD 5.0 billion was insured. The Kumamoto quakes were the costliest disaster event globally of the year.

Later in the year, central Italy was struck by an earthquake in August destroying some small towns and killing 299 people. There were other strong quakes in October which added to the destruction, but no loss of life. Government sources estimate that the overall reconstruction cost for the August earthquake alone will be as high as USD 5 billion. Insured losses for that event, however, are only a fraction of the total, estimated at USD 70 million,1 mainly from commercial assets.

“Society is underinsured against earthquake risk,” Swiss Re Chief Economist Kurt Karl says. “And the protection gap is a global concern. For example, Italy is the 8th largest economy in the world, yet only 1% of homes in Italy are insured against earthquake risk. Most of the reconstruction cost burden of this year’s quakes there will fall on households and society at large.”

Table 1: Total economic and insured losses in 2016 and 2015

Table 1: Total economic and insured losses in 2016 and 2015

Hurricane Matthew and severe storms in the US generate high losses

In October, Hurricane Matthew caused devastation across the east Caribbean and southeastern US. Economic losses were USD 8 billion, with insured losses estimated to be in excess of USD 4 billion. Hurricane Matthew was the strongest of the season and also the deadliest natural catastrophe of the year globally, claiming up to 733 lives, most of those lost in Haiti.

There were a number of severe weather events in the US in 2016, including a series of severe hail and thunder storms. The costliest was a hailstorm that struck Texas in April, resulting in economic losses of USD 3.5 billion and insured losses of USD 3 billion, as large hailstones inflicted heavy damage to property. “In this case, because households and businesses were insured, they were much better protected against the financial losses resulting from the storms,” Kurt Karl continues.

Widespread flooding in the US, Europe and Asia

Several large-scale flood events hit the US in 2016. The biggest was in August when heavy rains caused widespread flooding in Louisiana and Mississippi. The economic losses from this event totaled USD 10 billion, while private insured losses were at least USD 1 billion.2

Europe and Asia also experienced heavy flooding. In Europe in late May and early June, two slow-moving low-pressure systems caused thunderstorms, flash floods and river flooding, with France and Germany hit the most. The storms and floods led to total losses of USD 3.9 billion, and insured losses of USD 2.9 billion. In Asia, heavy rains throughout the year led to severe floods in China and other countries. According to public sources, total economic losses from flooding along the Yangtze River were at least USD 16 billion.

Wildfires spark biggest-ever loss for Canada’s insurance industry

Wildfires in Canada were another cause of large insurance losses in 2016. The cause of the wildfires is still under investigation, and could be the result of human activity.3 Due to dry conditions and strong winds, once triggered, fires spread rapidly through the forests of Alberta. The town of Fort McMurray was evacuated, and many homes there were completely destroyed. Economic losses were USD 3.9 billion. The area is the heart of Canada’s oil sands production with a high concentration of insured economic assets. As such, the insured losses were around USD 2.8 billion. This is one of the costliest wildfire events in insurance industry history, and it is the biggest loss the Canadian insurance sector has ever experienced.

Table 2: The most costly insured catastrophe losses in 2016

Table 2: The most costly insured catastrophe losses in 2016

Loss estimates in this release can still be subject to revision.

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About Swiss Re

The Swiss Re Group is a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer. Dealing direct and working through brokers, its global client base consists of insurance companies, mid-to-large-sized corporations and public sector clients. From standard products to tailor-made coverage across all lines of business, Swiss Re deploys its capital strength, expertise and innovation power to enable the risk-taking upon which enterprise and progress in society depend.

Founded in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1863, Swiss Re serves clients through a network of around 70 offices globally and is rated “AA-” by Standard & Poor’s, “Aa3” by Moody’s and “A+” by A.M. Best. Registered shares in the Swiss Re Group holding company, Swiss Re Ltd, are listed in accordance with the International Reporting Standard on the SIX Swiss Exchange and trade under the symbol SREN.

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1. Perils AG.

2. The private insured loss estimate does not include the losses covered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

3. In this release, the wildfires in Canada are counted as natural catastrophe losses.

SOURCE: Swiss Re