Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Costliest year on record for weather disasters with USD344 billion global economic loss in 2017 – Aon catastrophe report

Written by

All natural disasters cost USD353 billion, with insurance industry in position to handle high volume of claims payouts and explore future growth to build resilience in underinsured regions


Impact Forecasting, Aon Benfield’s catastrophe model development team, launched its Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2017 Annual Report, which evaluates the impact of the natural disaster events that occurred worldwide during 2017. 

The report reveals that there were 330 natural catastrophe events in 2017 that generated economic losses of USD353 billion – of which 97 percent (USD344 billion) was due to weather-related events, including Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in the US and Caribbean, plus Typhoon Hato in China and Cyclone Debbie in Australia. For historical context, 2017’s natural catastrophe losses were 93 percent higher versus the 2000-2016 average.

Insured losses to the private sector and government-sponsored programs were among the costliest ever incurred, reaching USD134 billion in 2017 – just behind the record USD137 billion in 2011. This is 139 percent higher than last year’s USD56 billion, primarily due to high insurance penetration in the US that suffered a very active Atlantic hurricane season, severe weather events (convective storms) and wildfires.

Closer to home, Pieter Visser, a Catastrophe Analyst at Aon South Africa says that combined catastrophe insured losses for South Africa in 2017 was the highest ever recorded, driven by the Knysna fires and flooding in Durban.  “Insurance released more than R5billion towards affected parties, which is absolutely necessary to rejuvenate economic recovery and renewal in affected regions,” says Visser. 

“Reinsurers do not regard South Africa as a low catastrophe risk region anymore, with the country having experienced a high frequency of large loss events in the last five years,” he adds.  “This is now regarded as the new normal and has resulted in adjustments and steep price increases by reinsurers.  Insurers are retaining more risk than ever before, which is driving a need for greater understanding of these risks. When combined with high global losses, insurers will need to review risk premiums associated with natural catastrophes,” Visser says.

Eric Andersen, CEO of Aon Benfield, comments: “While 2017 was an expensive year for the insurance industry, the reinsurance market had an estimated USD600 billion in available capital to withstand the high volume of payouts. Most critically, the US weather and wildfire events in particular have demonstrated the value of reinsurance, with claims being paid in an average of eight days to augment the recovery process.”

Additional key findings of the report include:

  • 36 percent (USD80 billion) of economic damage from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria was insured
  • 31 billion-dollar events occurred globally, with 16 alone in the US
  • Wildfires caused USD14 billion of insurance losses in 2017 – the highest on record for the peril
  • 10,000 human fatalities were caused by natural disasters, with the deadliest event being a massive landslide event in Sierra Leone when more than 1,100 people lost their lives
  • 2017 was the third warmest year on record since 1880 for combined land and ocean temperatures.

Steve Bowen, Impact Forecasting director and meteorologist, says: “The high cost of disasters in 2017 served as a reminder that we continue to face increasing levels of risk as more people and exposures are located in areas that are particularly vulnerable to major, naturally occurring events. As weather scenarios grow more volatile in their size and potential impact, it becomes more imperative than ever to identify ways to increase awareness, improve communication, and lower the insurance protection gap. We know natural disasters are going to occur. The question is how prepared are we going to be when the next one strikes.”

Other significant events during the year included:

  • An October wildfire outbreak, the most destructive ever recorded in the US state of California, caused nearly USD13 billion in economic damage
  • Substantial summer flooding causing more than USD12 billion in damage across China
  • Southern Europe endured an extended drought during the summer and autumn months that caused USD6.6 billion in damage across parts of Spain, Italy and Portugal
  • Elsewhere in Europe, the costliest thunderstorm event of the year affected central sections of the continent, particularly Poland, and left a damage bill of nearly USD800 million
  • In Mexico, two powerful earthquakes in September led to nearly USD6.0 billion in combined economic losses, including major damage across Mexico City on the 32ndanniversary of its historic 1985 tremor.

Read the full Weather, Climate & Catastrophe Insight: 2017 Annual Report:

Watch meteorologist and author Steve Bowen’s short film on the key findings of the report:

Access current and historical natural catastrophe data, plus event analysis, on Impact Forecasting’s Catastrophe Insight website


Notes to editors

Top 10 Global Economic Loss Events





Economic Loss (USD)

Insured Loss (USD)

Aug.25 – Sept.2

Hurricane Harvey

United States


~100 billion

~30 billion

September 18-22

Hurricane Maria

Caribbean Islands


~65 billion

~27 billion

September 4-12

Hurricane Irma

U.S., Caribbean Islands


~55 billion

~23 billion



United States


13 billion

11 billion





7.5 billion

300 million

Summer & Autumn


Southern Europe


6.6 billion

700 million

September 19




4.5 billion

1 billion





4.5 billion

125 million

August 23-25

Typhoon Hato



3.5 billion

250 million

May 8-11

Severe Weather

United States


3.4 billion

2.6 billion

All Other Events

87 billion

38 billion


334 billion1

134 billion1,2

1 Subject to change as loss estimates are further developed

2 Includes losses sustained by private insurers and government-sponsored programs

Published in Energy and Environment