Nat Cat Losses Level Off

Hilary Tuttle

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May 1, 2015

natural catastrophe losses

A recent study from the risk modeling experts at AIR Worldwide and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) found that global economic losses from natural catastrophes have remained about the same over the past 20 years.

Normal peaks and lulls are clear in the data, as expected given both the natural variability in frequency and severity of events and a range of external factors from population size and wealth to increased development in high-risk areas like coastlines.

While annual economic loss estimates have steadily grown, AIR found that this trend disappears when adjusted for inflation and gross domestic product. Compared on this like-for-like basis, AIR concluded that there is no statistically significant global trend in annual economic losses from natural hazards—it tends to oscillate around a baseline value of about $240 billion a year, with little prospect of going lower long-term.

“Development drivers are stronger drivers of the increase of risks than hazards themselves,” said Jerry Velasquez, chief of advocacy and outreach at UNISDR. “In order to limit economic losses in the future, we need to improve urban planning and make economic growth resilient.”

Hilary Tuttle is senior editor of Risk Management.