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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Record thunderstorm losses and deadly earthquakes cost $250 billion in damages in 2023

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Cars stranded in a flash flood caused by a monsoonal thunderstorm on Sept. 1, 2023, in Thermal, California.

David Mcnew | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Destructive thunderstorms in North America and Europe and a series of devastating earthquakes last year cost the world around $250 billion in damages, according to a new report from the world’s largest reinsurance company.

In a report published Tuesday, German reinsurance giant Munich Re said natural disasters in 2023 resulted in global economic losses roughly in line with those of the year before, while insured losses for the year came in at $95 billion (down from $125 billion in 2022).

Munich Re said the figures were characterized by a large number of severe regional storms, noting that assets of around $66 billion were destroyed by thunderstorms in North America last year, of which $50 billion was insured. In Europe, thunderstorm losses amounted to $10 billion, of which $8 billion was insured.

It said such high thunderstorm losses were unprecedented for the U.S. and Europe. The company warned that loss statistics from thunderstorms, which are sometimes referred to as “secondary perils” or smaller to mid-sized events, were likely to trend higher in the coming years.

The climate crisis is making extreme weather more frequent and more intense.

Munich Re said that while the economic and insured losses from 2023 may not appear extraordinary, it marks another year of “extremely high” damages even without any so-called mega-disasters in industrialized countries.

In 2022, for example, Hurricane Ian was found to have resulted in overall economic losses of a whopping $100 billion and insured losses of $60 billion.

Ernst Rauch, chief climate and geo scientist at Munich Re, said annual economic losses have previously been “significantly influenced” by mega-disasters, and it was merely by chance that one did not occur last year.

“If we as a society don’t put more weight on this topic of resilience then losses, especially from weather-related events, will most likely go up in the future. It will become more and more, not just an economic challenge, but a social challenge as well,” Rauch told CNBC via videoconference.

Earthquakes in Turkey and Syria

The number of deaths caused by natural disasters rose to 74,000 last year, Munch Re said — far above the annual average of 10,000 for the last five years.

It said approximately 63,000 people died (85% of the year’s total deaths) as a result of earthquakes in 2023, noting that this was more than at any time since 2010.

A series of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria in early February was the year’s most destructive natural disaster, Munich Re said, with overall economic losses of around $50 billion.

These powerful earthquakes killed over 55,000 people in Turkey and Syria, with a further 100,000 injured, according to the British Red Cross.

The rubble of a destroyed building in Kahramanmaras, southern Turkey, on Feb. 7, 2023, a day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country’s southeast.

Adem Altan | Afp | Getty Images

Munich Re’s Rauch highlighted a major difference between the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria and the earthquake in Japan in early 2024, saying that while both were of a similar magnitude and took place in a densely populated region, the death toll in Japan reportedly stands at around 160.

“A very different number,” Rauch said. “And our assessment, based on the information available today, is that obviously the building codes and the way buildings have performed under these earthquakes loads, they were just better prepared for these hazards.”

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