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Natural disasters cost Swiss Re dear

Hurricane Katrina is expected to have caused SFr176 billion in damage

(Keystone)

Insurers experienced the costliest year ever in 2005 as a result of an increasing number of natural catastrophes, says Swiss Re.

The reinsurance giant estimates total damage at about $225 billion (SFr290.4 billion), but says only $80 billion of this amount was insured.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck the United States in August, is alone expected to engender claims of $45 billion, making it the costliest insured single event.

"The ongoing warm phase that has been measurable since the 1990s and the recent high hurricane frequency inspire little hope of this trend being reversed," the Zurich-based Swiss Re warned on Tuesday.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 had previously been the most expensive catastrophe, causing losses of $22 billion, ahead of the September 11 attacks in the US in 2001.

Total economic losses caused by hurricanes, earthquakes and floods this year stood at $225 billion.

Pakistan

An estimated 112,000 people died in manmade or natural disasters, most of them in Asia, said Swiss Re.

October's tremor in northern Pakistan alone accounted for 87,000 deaths.

The bulk of insured damage occurred in the US, which was hit by hurricanes Katrina, Wilma and Rita.

In Europe, disasters caused insured damage of about $6 billion in 2005 mainly as a result of flooding in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Contiuing trend

Swiss Re said the full scale of the disasters in 2005 had not yet been fully assessed, but the trend towards high losses appeared to be continuing.

"This is due at least in part to increasing population densities, higher concentrations of insured values and construction activity expanding into areas with a high natural-perils exposure," a company statement said.

Swiss Re is one of the world's leading reinsurers and the world's largest life and health insurer.

A month ago the company announced the takeover of the insurance division of General Electric in the US.

But Swiss Re warned that claims for this year's extraordinary hurricane season meant that it would not meet its profit and growth targets.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swiss Re is one of the world's leading reinsurers with a staff of 8,000 people.
It has its headquarters in Zurich and operates in over 30 countries.
The company was set up in 1863 following a fire in the Swiss town of Glarus.
A reinsurer makes contracts by which an insurer is insured, wholly or in part, against the risk he has incurred in insuring somebody else.

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In brief

Natural disasters caused total damage of $225 billion (SFr290.4 billion) in 2005, but only $80 billion was covered by insurance companies.

In 2004 total damage was $104 billion, of which $42 billion was insured.

Most of the estimated 112,000 victims of this year's catastrophes came from Asia, but the bulk of insured property is registered in the US.

August's flooding in Switzerland caused damage estimated at SFr2.3 billion.

end of infobox


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