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Globally, 2011 Was Costliest Disaster Year Ever
Credit: Ross Toro, Our Amazing Planet

From devastating earthquakes to record tornado outbreaks, 2011 was the most expensive year for natural disasters worldwide, according to a new insurance report.

At $380 billion, global economic losses from natural disasters in 2011 were two-thirds higher than in 2005, the previous record year, which had losses of $220 billion.

The magnitude 9.0 Japan temblor in Marchalone caused more than half the year's losses, according to the report from global insurance firm Munich Re. In the United States, a deadly dozen disasters each caused more than $1 billion in damage.

While 90 percent of the recorded natural catastrophes were weather-related, the big earthquakes were the most expensive disasters,. Normally, it is the weather-related disasters that account for the greatest insured losses, according to the insurance firm. Over the last three decades, geophysical events such as earthquakes accounted for less than 10 percent of insured losses, Munich Re said.

Around 70 percent of economic losses in 2011 occurred in Asia, where 16,000 people were killed in Japan during the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Even without considering the consequences of a crippled nuclear reactor in Fukushima following the quake, the economic losses caused by the quake and the tsunami came to $210 billion — the costliest natural catastrophe of all time.

The magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, in February caused $16 billion in damage. Other expensive disasters included tornado season in the United States, which caused $46 billion in damage. Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane to make landfall in the United States in three years, caused $15 billion in damage.

"Thankfully, a sequence of severe natural catastrophes like last year's is a very rare occurrence," said Torsten Jeworrek, the Munich Re board member responsible for global reinsurance business, in a statement.

Some 27,000 people died in natural catastrophes in 2011. This figure does not include the countless deaths from famine following the worst drought in decades on the Horn of Africa, which was the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of the year.

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