Drought in 2018 observed in South Africa, cost the Cape agricultural sector R5.9 billion, according to Aon's Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight. File Photo: IOL

CAPE TOWN – Aon, a leading global professional services firm providing a broad range of risk, retirement and health solutions, released its Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2018 Annual Report. This evaluates the impact of global natural disaster events to identify trends, manage volatility and enhance resilience. 

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The report reveals that 389 natural catastrophe events in 2018 generated economic losses of $224 billion (R3.04 trillion). Of that total, private-sector and government-sponsored insurance programmes covered $90 billion of the total – the fourth-highest year on record. 

This means the protection gap, which is the portion of economic losses not covered by insurance, was 40 percent and at its lowest level since 2005.

The biggest driver of catastrophes in 2018 was the tropical cyclone peril following several significant landfalling storms. 

This included Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence (US), Typhoon Jebi and Typhoon Trami (Japan), Typhoon Mangkhut (Philippines, Hong Kong, China), and Typhoon Rumbia (China). As a result, 2017 and 2018 resulted in the costliest back-to-back years on record for both economic losses ($653 billion) solely due to weather-related events, and for insured losses across all perils ($238 billion).

Andy Marcell, chief executive of Aon’s Reinsurance Solutions business, said: “2018 was another active year for global natural disasters. While there was not a singular “mega” catastrophe event, there were 43 billion-dollar events which aggregated to a slightly above-average year. The re/insurance industry continues to withstand the payouts backed up with $605 billion of capital but focus on managing the cost of changing climate and weather events by helping to close the protection gap.”

Additional major events during the year included a series of major wildfires in Northern and Southern California. The costliest insured loss event of 2018 was the Camp Fire at $12 billion, which also became California’s deadliest and most destructive fire on record.

Steve Bowen, director and meteorologist at Aon’s Impact Forecasting team, said: “Among the takeaways from the events of 2018 was the recognition that catastrophe risk continues to evolve. The complex combination of socioeconomics, shifts in population and exposure into vulnerable locations, plus a changing climate contributing to more volatile weather patterns, is forcing new conversations to sufficiently handle the need for mitigation and resilience measures. Natural disasters are always going to occur. How well we prepare can and will play a key role in future event losses.”

Other significant regional events during the year included:

  • Notable drought in 2018 was observed in South Africa, costing the Cape agricultural sector R5.9 billion.
  • October’s Camp Fire in the US destroyed 18 804 structures, including most of the city of Paradise. Total economic costs were estimated to approach $15 billion. This is the second year in a row that California set a new record for wildfire losses.
  • In Japan, torrential rains during the month of July led to catastrophic flooding across much of the country with total damage nearing $10 billion.
  • A multibillion-dollar flood occurred in India’s state of Kerala during the seasonal summer monsoon months.
  • Much of Northern and Central Europe endured prolonged summer drought conditions as aggregate costs, mostly to agriculture, which tallied to near $9 billion. Multibillion-dollar drought events also impacted the US, Argentina, China, and India.
  • A significant stretch of severe weather and flooding impacted Italy and elsewhere in Southern Europe during October and November, as the economic toll topped $5 billion.
  • Reaching $2.1 billion of insured losses, Windstorm Friederike was the fifth-costliest European windstorm of the 21st century.