Monday, July 23, 2007

Insurers React to Flood of Flooding

An extraordinary flood or extreme weather event in one location may be a disaster, but repeated extraordinary flooding across many locations may be regarded as evidence that something's going on that deserves not only attention, but also action.

Reuters gathers some of the news threads and finds that the people who may serve as the developed world's "economy scouts" - insurers - are finding justification in recognizing climate change for the threat that it is.

Floods killed more than 7,000 people in the world last year, a recent study by reinsurance group Swiss Re study showed -- roughly a third of all victims of natural catastrophes such as storms, earthquakes, droughts and extreme cold or heat.

Statistics gathered by insurers -- who look at the cost of a catastrophe to measure its severity, not the death toll -- also indicate climate is changing.

"One single event can never be a sign of climate change," said Jens Mehlhorn, who heads a team of flood experts at the Zurich-based company.

"But when you see a series of such events, and that's what it looks like at the moment ... it may be about time to say something is changing," he said.

This year's UK floods were an event statistical models say should happen once only every 30 to 50 years, Mehlhorn says: the floods in 2000 were a 25-30 years event.

Two such events in only seven years are not statistically impossible, but they are unlikely. Other countries have seen similar increases in such disasters.

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