Nature

Disaster toll tallied
Nature

The soaring cost of natural catastrophes is due more to socio-economic than climatic factors. Natural disasters around the world last year caused a record US$380 billion in economic losses. That’s more than twice the tally for 2010, and about $115 billion more than in the previous record year of 2005, according to a report from Munich Re, a reinsurance group in Germany. But other work emphasizes that it is too soon to blame the economic devastation on climate change.

Almost two-thirds of 2011’s exceptionally high costs are attributable to two disasters unrelated to climate and weather: the magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March, and February’s comparatively small but unusually destructive magnitude-6.3 quake in New Zealand.

And the long-term rise in the costs of global disasters is probably due mainly to socio-economic changes, such as population growth and development in vulnerable regions. That conclusion is backed up by a forthcoming study — supported by Munich Re — by economists Fabian Barthel and Eric Neumayer at the London School of Economics.