Robert Gerlach, gerlacrb@muohio.edu

Just eight months into the year, 2011 has already become the costliest year for natural disasters in recorded history. The previous record for global expenditures on property damage from natural disasters belonged to 2005, the devastating year of Hurricane Katrina. According to Munich Re, a global insurance company, in 2005 it was estimated that the world as a whole spent $220 billion (adjusted for inflation) on repairing property damage caused by natural disasters. Yet after the first six months of 2011, the world suffered $265 billion in economic losses, surpassing 2005 as a whole. To put it in perspective, the first six months of 2011 have been more costly than all damages accumulated from 1982 to 1986. And the numbers will only grow, especially after the recent damages from Hurricane Irene on the East Coast.

Global warming is not the only theory that explains the increases in property damage from natural disasters. Peter Hoppe of Munich Re’s Geo Risk Center believes that one of the major factors is exponential population growth. As global population increases, people need to develop new homes in new areas, giving hurricanes, floods, and other forms of disasters more targets to hit.

And it’s not just an increase in population; it’s also due to the specific regions that people are moving to. Despite all of the hurricanes in the last decade, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States says that 53 percent of all Americans live in a coastal county. Considering the coastal counties of the contiguous United States only take up 17 percent of the country’s landmass, there is an obvious desire to live by the coast. People are moving away from the often mundane lifestyles of America’s heartland to the exciting coastal cities and beach homes they’ve always dreamed of, further increasing the amount of property damage from natural disasters that tend to occur along coasts including hurricanes, earthquakes, typhoons and floods.

Peter believes global warming is the other major player because it causes ocean temperatures to rise. When ocean temperatures rise, there is “more evaporation and a higher potential for extreme downpours” like the torrential rainstorms that caused deadly floods in Australia earlier this year. However, global warming is a direct effect of population growth so until we learn to limit our population, we are going to have to learn to deal with more disasters.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve once or twice thought about how nice it would be to attend a college on the coast. But after seeing the aftermath of Irene and the tsunami in Japan, it’s comforting to know we are several hundred miles away from any beach. But although we don’t have to worry about tsunamis, mudslides or hurricanes, we will feel the effects of increased insurance costs. Bob Hartwig of the Insurance Information Institute said three of the 15 most expensive natural disasters in recorded history have occurred in the last 18 months, “pushing up the cost of providing insurance in many parts.” The insurance companies are not necessarily worried about a disaster striking in Southwest Ohio. They just need to raise all types of rates to cover losses from recent disasters across the world. So if you’re paying any type of insurance, whether it’s for your car, property or life, expect your rates to rise, at least until we learn to limit global increases in population.

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