Loss statistics for natural disasters demonstrate, also after correction for inflation, a dramatic increase of the loss burden since 1950. This increase is driven by a concentration of population and values in urban areas, the development of highly exposed coastal and valley regions, the complexity of modern societies and technologies and probably, also by the beginning consequences of global warming. This process will continue unless remedial action will be taken. Managing the risk from natural disasters starts with identification of the hazards. The next step is the evaluation of the risk, where risk is a function of hazard, exposed values or human lives and the vulnerability of the exposed objects. Probabilistic computer models have been developed for the proper assessment of risks since the late 1980s. The final steps are controlling and financing future losses. Natural disaster insurance plays a key role in this context, but also private parties and governments have to share a part of the risk. A main responsibility of governments is to formulate regulations for building construction and land use. The insurance sector and the state have to act together in order to create incentives for building and business owners to take loss prevention measures. A further challenge for the insurance sector is to transfer a portion of the risk to the capital markets, and to serve better the needs of the poor. Catastrophe bonds and microinsurance are the answer to such challenges. The mechanisms described above have been developed to cope with well-known disasters like earthquakes, windstorms and floods. They can be applied, in principle, also to less well investigated and less frequent extreme disasters: submarine slides, great volcanic eruptions, meteorite impacts and tsunamis which may arise from all these hazards. But there is an urgent need to improve the state of knowledge on these more exotic hazards in order to reduce the high uncertainty in actual risk evaluation to an acceptable level. Due to the rarity of such extreme events, specific risk prevention measures are hardly justified with exception of attempts to divert earth-orbit crossing meteorites from their dangerous path. For the industry it is particularly important to achieve full transparency as regards covered and non-covered risks and to define in a systematic manner the limits of insurability for super-disasters.
One contribution of 20 to a Discussion Meeting Issue ‘Extreme natural hazards’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society