Preliminary Swiss Re sigma estimates that over 238 000 people were killed by catastrophes in 2008, insured losses soar to USD 50 billion.

18 December 2008, Zurich

According to initial estimates from the forthcoming Swiss Re sigma study on catastrophes, more than 238 000 people lost their lives to natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2008 - the fourth largest number of deaths since 1970. While the total cost to society was USD 225 billion, USD 50 billion was covered by property insurance, making 2008 the second costliest year ever in terms of insured losses.

In 2008, large loss events tragically claimed over 238 000 lives. In early May, tropical cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, killing 138 400 people, setting off one of the largest humanitarian crises in recent memory. Later in May, a devastating earthquake measuring 7.9 on the moment magnitude scale shook China's Sichuan region, killing 87 400 people and leaving over 10 million homeless. Most of the losses from these two events were not insured.

Property insurers will face claims of over USD 50 billion…

Catastrophes cost insurers more than USD 50bn in 2008, making it the second costliest year in insurance history. Of the total amount, natural catastrophes accounted for USD 43bn, with storms costing insurers USD 39bn. Hurricanes in the US and the Caribbean triggered record losses, with Hurricane Ike resulting in claims of USD 20bn, followed by Hurricane Gustav at USD 4bn (insured losses include property, motor, offshore damage and flood losses covered by the NFIP). In Europe, winter storm Emma caused damages of USD 1.4bn, which are significantly lower than those caused by last year's winter storm Kyrill (USD 6bn).

... including USD 7 billion for man-made catastrophes

Man-made disasters continued to be costly for the insurance industry in 2008. Explosions and major fires resulted in losses of USD 4.8bn. Damages to industry and industrial warehouses accounted for approximately USD 2.1bn of this amount, while oil and gas-related incidents - excluding offshore damage from hurricanes - cost insurers another USD 1.5bn.

Natural catastrophes and man-made disasters cost society USD 225 billion in 2008

Catastrophes in 2008 cost society USD 225bn. This figure includes both insured and uninsured losses to buildings, infrastructure and vehicles. The Sichuan earthquake was the costliest at USD 85bn. Hurricane Ike ranked second (USD 40bn), followed by snow storms and freezing rain across China (USD 20bn).

In terms of man-made disasters, a ruptured pipeline on Varanus Island in Western Australia in June 2008 was one of the costliest, resulting in losses to industry and the local economy of at least USD 1.8bn.

Table 1: The most costly insured losses in 2008

Table 2: Catastrophes with the most fatalities in 2008

Table 3: The worst catastrophe years since 1970

Insured claims 1970-2008*

* 2008: provisional figures

Source: Swiss Re, sigma preliminary estimates of catastrophe losses in 2008

Notes for editors

Swiss Reinsurance Company Ltd

Swiss Re is a leading and highly diversified global reinsurer. The company operates through offices in more than 25 countries. Founded in Zurich, Switzerland, in 1863, Swiss Re offers financial services products that enable risk-taking essential to enterprise and progress. The company's traditional reinsurance products and related services for property and casualty, as well as the life and health business are complemented by insurance-based corporate finance solutions and supplementary services for comprehensive risk management. Swiss Re is rated "AA-" by Standard, Poor's, "Aa2" by Moody's and "A+" by A.M. Best.

The comprehensive sigma study "Natural and man-made catastrophes in 2008" will be published in spring 2009.