ZURICH Natural disasters, such as Japan's earthquake and floods in Australia and Thailand, cost the global economy a record $370 billion in 2011, with losses for the insurance industry the second largest ever, Swiss Re (SRENH.VX) said on Wednesday.
Insured catastrophe losses more than doubled in 2011 to $116 billion, Swiss Re said on Wednesday in its study of natural catastrophes and man-made disasters. That was up from a December forecast for $108 billion.
Munich Re (MUVGn.DE), the world's biggest reinsurer, estimated in January a cost of $105 billion to the insurance industry from natural disasters.
Japan's earthquake, which caused over 19,000 deaths, accounted for more than half 2011's economic loss and was the most expensive earthquake on record at $35 billion, Swiss Re said.
However, low insurance protection in the country meant insurers will only bear 17 percent of total losses.
"Had Japan been insured as well, 2011 would certainly have been the most expensive year ever also in terms of insured losses," said Lucia Bevere, Swiss Re senior catastrophe data analyst, who co-authored the study.
In contrast, the industry will shoulder 80 percent of the economic loss stemming from New Zealand's earthquake, which was the third costliest ever at $12 billion.
Floods in Thailand also gave the industry a $12 billion hit from claims - the highest recorded for a river water event - after an area the size of Switzerland was flooded when the Chao Phraya river burst its banks.
Insured losses exceed $49 billion in Asia, making it the worst affected region globally.
In the United States, the hurricane season was relatively modest, helping to cap overall insured losses, despite a brutal tornado season with losses of over $25 billion.
Despite the record year, the hit to the industry fell short of the $123 billion picked up in 2005 when hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Dan Lalor)