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Insurer: Weather disasters becoming more frequent

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AFP PHOTO/KHIN MAUNG WIN/NEWSCOM/FILE

(Read caption) Children line up for food aid in Daydiyel, Burma on June 29, 2008.

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The number of natural disasters has more than doubled since 1980, mostly because of a worsening of weather-driven catastrophes, according to a German insurance company.

In its report [PDF], Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurer (that is, an insurance company for insurance companies), said that 400 natural disasters occurred in the first six months of 2008, with 300 of them attributed to extreme weather, such as storms, floods, and heat waves.

This number is in line with a steady increase in the number of natural disasters that the company has tracked since 1980. In the 1980s, the average number of yearly natural disasters was 400. That number increased to 630 in the 1990s and 730 in the past 10 years. The number of geophysical disasters – earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions – increased from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, but has since returned to early-80s levels.

The highest number of recorded natural disasters, 960, was in 2007, the company said.

Ben Block, a writer at the Worldwatch Institute, gives a rundown of the catastrophes we've seen so far in 2008:

So far this year, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and massive flooding have crippled the American Midwest. An earthquake in China's Sichuan province killed more than 69,000 people and caused an estimated $20 billion in damages. Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar killed at least 84,000 people and left at least $10 billion in damages. The majority of this year's disasters, 80 percent, are classified as severe thunderstorms, Munich Re says.
While other years have experienced more costly disasters, both overall economic losses and insured losses are higher in 2008 than the average losses recorded in the first half of each of the past ten years. This year's natural disasters have so far caused $50 billion in economic losses and $13 billion in insured losses, compared with $35 billion and $9 billion, respectively, over the past decade. The year of Hurricane Katrina, 2005, was the costliest ever recorded, with nearly $250 billion in combined losses.
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