Nature's Fury; YEAR OF CATASTROPHES KILLS 50,000 AT A COST OF Pounds 60bn
IT'S been a year of natural catastrophes. Torrential rain, huge winds and earthquakes have caused 50,000 deaths and damage costing more than pounds 60 billion.
Just this week six people died when hurricane-force gales battered Boxing Day Britain while in the Sydney-Hobart boat race in Australia the worst-ever seas claimed the lives of some of the world's most experienced sailors.
The economic cost of the tragedies around the world is the second highest in history.
In 1997 there were 13,000 deaths and damage was estimated at pounds 20 billion.
The 1998 damage figure was only exceeded by 1995's pounds 120 billion of damage - and that was almost entirely caused by the Kobe earthquake in Japan.
According to German insurance giants Munich Re, global warming and unusually heavy rain turned 1998 into a "year with an exceptionally large number of natural catastrophes."
And it's been a dreadful decade. The past ten years has seen three times as many natural disasters compared to the Sixties.
The cost to the insurance industry has risen by fifteen times, partly because of a growing concentration of population and property in large cities - many located in high-risk zones.
The worst economic disaster in 1998 was the flooding of the Yangtze River in China.
The cost was put at a staggering pounds 20 billion - but because so little of the property was insured its insurance value was put at less than pounds 1 billion.
More than 3,500 people died as the floods swept huge tracts of the country.
The second most serious disaster in economic terms was Hurricane Georges, which brought severe floods to the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Florida. …