Sigma preliminary estimates for 2012: insurers to pay for close to half of the USD 140 billion in economic losses caused by natural catastrophes and man-made disasters

19 December 2012, Zurich

  • Economic losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters will likely reach at least USD 140 billion in 2012
  • Weather events, primarily in the US, will dominate insured losses this year
  • The re/insurance industry will cover approximately USD 65 billion of all losses, significantly contributing to post-disaster relief

According to Swiss Re sigma preliminary estimates, total insured losses from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters will reach approximately USD 65 billion in 2012. Natural catastrophes alone will lead to over 11 000 lives lost and roughly USD 60 billion in insured claims.

After a benign first half of the year, Hurricane Sandy and drought in the US in the second half of 2012 will lead to total economic losses from disasters of at least USD 140 billion. Insured losses arising from the catastrophic events of the year are set to reach roughly USD 65 billion. The tally is moderate compared to 2011, which saw historic insured losses of over USD 120 billion due to record earthquakes and flooding, but is above the average of the last 10 years.

Kurt Karl, Swiss Re’s Chief Economist, says: "Severe weather events continue to affect many parts of the world. Although insurance cannot bring back lost lives, many people and businesses can rely on financial relief from insurance cover, as is the case for the US. However, in large parts of the globe that are prone to severe weather events, people and businesses could increase risk-preparedness by eliminating underinsurance."

Weather-related events in the US dominate 2012
After two years of historic losses arising from record earthquakes and floods in Asia Pacific and South America, 2012 is dominated by large, weather-related losses in the US. Moreover, the top five insured loss events are all in the US. Hurricane Sandy is the largest Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of wind span. This record storm surge caused widespread flooding and damage to a densely populated area on the East Coast of the US. It also led to the worst power outage caused by a natural catastrophe in the history of the US. Before hitting the US, Hurricane Sandy also struck the Caribbean and the Bahamas, adding to the loss of lives and property. Estimates for the insured cost of the devastation are between USD 20 and 25 billion, which is relatively high despite the fact that the Hurricane was weaker in comparison to others. Part of the reason for the high cost is the combination of moon tides and interference with concomitant weather patterns that amplified the impact. However, the total insured loss tally is subject to a high degree of uncertainty, as it is still too soon to gauge the final overall damage.

In addition, extremely dry weather conditions and limited snowfall in the US led to one of the worst droughts in recent decades, affecting more than half of the country. Drought-related agricultural losses are likely to reach approximately USD 11 billion, including pay-outs from federal assistance programs.

Table 1: The most costly insured catastrophe losses in 2012

Insured losses [1]





(in USDbn)





20 to 25


Hurricane Sandy

US (et al)











Severe storms, tornadoes






Severe storms, tornadoes






Derecho storm




Property and business interruption, excluding liability and life insurance losses


Swiss Re estimates


With the permission of Property Claims Services (PCS)

Notes to editors:

Definitions and selection criteria for sigma catastrophe statistics:

Natural catastrophes

Loss events triggered by natural forces

Man-made disasters

Loss events associated with human activities

Insured catastrophe losses

Losses caused by the catastrophes covered by property insurance

Total economic losses

Also include the uninsured part of the property losses related to the catastrophes

Minimum selection criteria:

Total losses

USD 90.9 million

Or: Insured property claims

Shipping: USD 18.3 million

Aviation: USD 36.6 million

Other: USD 45.8 million

Or: Casualties

Dead or missing: 20

Injured: 50

Homeless: 2 000

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 over 60 offices globally and is rated "AA-" by Standard & Poor's, "A1" by Moody's and "A+" by A.M. Best. Registered shares in the Swiss Re Group holding company, Swiss Re Ltd, are listed 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.

The comprehensive sigma study “Natural and man-made catastrophes in 2012” will be published in Spring 2013. If you wish to pre-order a printed copy, please send your order, complete with your full postal address, to:

This media release is available electronically on Swiss Re’s website: