‘Societies need to urgently adapt’: Natural disasters cause billions in damages in 2021

‘Societies need to urgently adapt’: Natural disasters cause billions in damages in 2021
The catastrophic floods in July killed 42 in Belgium. Credit: Belga

The year 2021 saw around €159 billion worth of damages as a result of natural disasters, according to insurer Munich Re. This makes it the third-most expensive year for insurance claims.

“The images of natural disasters in 2021 are disturbing,” said Torsten Jeworrek, Member of the Board of Management at Munich Re.

“Climate research confirms that extreme weather has become more likely. Societies need to urgently adapt to increasing weather risks and make climate protection a priority.”

Jeworrek said that while insurers plan for most natural hazards and encourage behaviour that will limit losses, “severe volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in 2021 showed that we should not overlook these categories of natural disasters either.”

Flooding responsible for the bulk of Europe’s damages

In Europe, flash floods after extreme rainfall caused losses of €46 billion – the costliest natural disaster on record in Germany.

July 2021 saw the most torrential rainfall in over a hundred years and floods swept away buildings and damaged infrastructure such as railway lines, bridges and roads. Over 220 people were killed in the flooding in Europe.

Overall, damage in Europe totalled €46 billion, of which €33 billion was in Germany alone.

“The insured portion was relatively low because of uninsured infrastructure losses and the limited insurance density for flooding in Germany,” Munich Re said in a statement, citing figures provided by the Association of German Insurers.

“To date, it is the costliest natural disaster in Germany and Europe.”

The United States accounted for a high share of overall natural disaster losses in 2021 (roughly €128 billion), with tornadoes, tropical storms and a deep freeze in the normally-warm southern regions of the country.

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Climate change to blame

Climate change is largely to blame, according to Ernst Rauch, Chief Climate and Geo-Scientist at Munich Re.

“The 2021 disaster statistics are striking because some of the extreme weather events are of the kind that are likely to become more frequent or more severe as a result of climate change. Among these are severe storms in the USA, including in the winter half-year, or heavy rain followed by floods in Europe,” Rauch said.

“For hurricanes, scientists anticipate that the proportion of severe storms and storms with extreme rainfall will increase because of climate change. Even though events cannot automatically be attributed to climate change, analysis of the changes over decades provides plausible indications of a connection with the warming of the atmosphere and the oceans. Adapting to increasing risks due to climate change will be a challenge.”


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