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Disasters' economic toll jumped in '10

GENEVA -- The economic cost of natural and man-made disasters jumped threefold to $218 billion in 2010 from $68 billion in 2009, with earthquakes the main cause of death and destruction, insurer Swiss Reinsurance Co. said yesterday.

Some 304,000 people died in disasters last year, a sharp rise from 15,000 in 2009. Haiti's earthquake alone claimed 222,000 lives, while almost 56,000 people were killed by Russia's summer heat wave, and more than 6,200 people died in floods in China and Pakistan.

The Zurich-based company said insurers bore $43 billion of the cost of disasters last year, a 60 percent year-on-year increase. The earthquakes in Chile and New Zealand had insured losses of more than $12 billion, it said. Eight other disasters, including storms in the United States, Germany, France and Australia, cost insurers more than $1 billion last year.

The only man-made catastrophe to make the costliest top 10 was the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 people and caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In its annual report, Swiss Re predicted that losses from the earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan will make 2011 another expensive year for insurers.

Swiss Re's chief economist, Thomas Hess, noted that many developing countries have poor disaster insurance coverage.

-- AP

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