Losses from natural disasters in the Asia-Pacific and Africa region totalled $64bn in 2023, slightly lower than the $66bn seen in the previous year, says reinsurance giant Munich Re. Approximately $8bn of the $64bn was insured (2022: $11bn).
Japan, a country highly exposed to natural hazards, was largely spared major damage in 2023. While Typhoon Doksuri was the year’s costliest disaster in terms of overall losses, two major catastrophes in New Zealand together accounted for the highest insured losses in Asia-Pacific (around $4bn). In early February, there were massive floods in and around Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city, causing insured losses of nearly $2bn and overall losses of $2.9bn. In mid-February, Cyclone Gabrielle hit New Zealand’s North Island and Norfolk Island, resulting in huge damage. Losses from the cyclone were at a similar level to those from the floods.
In the northeast of Australia, severe flooding occurred in mid-December as a result of tropical storm Jasper in the state of Queensland. According to media reports, there was more than 800 mm of rain in just one day. Numerous rivers burst their banks. It is still too early to reliably quantify the damage.
El Nino and El Nina effects
As in other regions, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions influence weather extremes in Asia, in addition to climate change. The ENSO expression peaked at the end of 2023 and will most likely subside by mid-year. Australia can therefore hope for a mild cyclone season overall, lasting until the end of April. In contrast, the risk of forest fires is likely to increase as the lush vegetation of recent months begins to dry out, increasing flammability. If El Niño turns into its counterpart, La Niña, in the second half of 2024, the risk of flooding in eastern Australia could increase.
The outlook for the typhoon season in the northwest Pacific remains unclear due to the uncertainty of ENSO development in the second half of the year. In the event of a La Niña phase, typhoon activity in the northwest Pacific could be below average. However, more storms could hit the Philippines, as storms under La Niña conditions tend to move westwards rather than northwards.
Worldwide, natural disasters in 2023 resulted in losses of around $250bn (2022: $250bn), with insured losses of $95bn (2022: $125bn). Overall losses tally with the five-year average, while insured losses were slightly below the average figure of $105bn. Unlike in previous years, there were no mega-disasters in industrialized countries that drove losses up (such as Hurricane Ian in 2022, which caused overall losses of $100bn and insured losses of $60bn).
Economic losses from natural disasters were dominated by severe storms: 76% of overall losses were weather-related, while 24% had geophysical causes.