The USD 1.3 trillion disaster protection gap: innovative insurance tools exist to support governments to be better prepared

07 October 2015, Zurich

  • Disaster risks are increasing but insurance hasn't kept pace: the estimated USD 1.3 trillion gap between insured and total losses remains stubbornly large, hampering a country's ability to recover
  • Governments are uniquely exposed as they typically shoulder the cost of relief and recovery and also pay for reconstruction of infrastructure
  • Uninsured losses following a catastrophe impact economic growth over several years, hampering a country's ability to bounce back
  • Innovative insurance solutions can help countries, cities and individuals preserve hard-won development gains, even in the face of major natural disasters and climate change but it's crucial to arrange them before disaster strikes
  • Governments increasingly use these solutions to manage their budgets and fiscal contingencies; successful examples can be found in many emerging markets as well as in OECD countries but more needs to be done

Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and droughts continue to ravage countries and destroy lives and economies. The gap between insured and total losses is widening, while many disaster-prone countries lack financial preparedness. Governments are uniquely exposed to these risks. Innovative insurance tools and solutions can help bridge this gap, but it's crucial to arrange them before catastrophe strikes, says a new Swiss Re publication launched at the World Bank /IMF annual meetings in Lima.

In "Disaster risk financing: Smart solutions for the public sector" Swiss Re shows that the economic cost of natural catastrophes has grown markedly in the last 40 years. The protection gap – the difference between economic and insured losses – remains large despite the availability of innovative insurance solutions. Narrowing this gap helps strengthening a country's financial resilience.

"The insurance industry is already rising to the challenge of underinsurance in both developed and developing countries through innovative risk management measures," said Swiss Re's Group Chief Executive Officer Michel M. Liès. "The risk landscape is becoming more and more complex as the world becomes more interdependent. No country can afford to be left unprotected."

On average only about 30% of catastrophe losses have been covered by insurance over the last 10 years. That means that about 70% of catastrophe losses – or USD 1.3 trillion – have been borne by individuals, firms and governments.

Governments typically shoulder the cost of relief and recovery, but also pay for reconstruction of infrastructure and, in the case of underinsured individuals or businesses, they even fund private rebuilding efforts. Yet, most governments will seek the funds only after a catastrophic event, and often revert to increasing taxes, borrowing or soliciting international aid, often incurring high costs and delays. These events can wipe out years of hard-earned development gains. Rating agency Standard & Poor's recently published a report warning that a country's disaster preparedness could be linked to its credit rating going forward.

More needs to be done
As a first priority, governments should enable a functioning insurance market. This will help absorb a major part of disaster losses suffered by individuals and businesses. Pre-event financing solutions can alleviate the remaining financial burden on governments. Post-disaster financing (such as debt financing or donor aid) should only come into play to cover residual losses once all other risk transfer solutions have been exhausted.

"For risk protection to be effective, funds need to be quickly available in the wake of a natural catastrophe, meaning that financing arrangements must be in place already beforehand," says Martyn Parker, Chairman of Swiss Re's Global Partnerships, a unit that works with public sector clients. "Financial preparedness lowers the volatility of the state budget and improves planning certainty for the public sector, besides making a country more attractive to investors."

The study – launched at the World Bank /IMF annual meetings in Lima – points to a number of countries working in collaboration with insurers to innovative solutions. Mexico, for example, is a pioneer in securitising earthquake and hurricane risk. Uruguay has developed an ingenious risk transfer mechanism to mitigate the risk of low rainfall on its hydroelectric power generation. Central American and Caribbean governments have insured their risk against hurricanes and earthquakes The Africa Risk Capacity insures several countries against drought risk.

The publication also highlights activities in Thailand, Bangladesh and Africa, with more updates to be published on over the next months.


[1] On average, over the last 10 years, only 30% of catastrophe losses were covered by insurance and the remaining 70%, or around USD 1.3 trillion, were paid by individuals, firms and governments.


Notes to editors

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 about 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. For more information about Swiss Re Group, please visit: or follow us on Twitter @SwissRe.

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