Canadian Underwriter

Tsunami disaster leads to calls for early warning system

January 3, 2005   by Canadian Underwriter

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Countries in the Indian Ocean are working on plans for an early warning system to detect future tsunamis, much like that already used off the coast of Japan.
Following the December 26 tsunami disaster, which resulted from a seaquake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale off the coast of Sumatra, analysts have noted that while monitoring equipment to detect tidal wave activity is in place in the Pacific Ocean, no such monitoring is in place in the Indian Ocean.
There is still little understanding of the insurance impact of the disaster, which affected 12 countries in India, Africa and South Asia, while the death toll had risen Monday to approach 155,000, with tens of thousands still missing.
Analysts say the insurance impact will be a fraction of the overall economic losses, with the most affected lines including travel, life marine and tourism industry risks (including business interruption). For example, the Maldives has seen massive damage to its many coastal hotels, a report by reinsurance broker Benfield Group notes. Another area where losses could be significant for the Thai insurance market is the beach resort area of Phuket, Benfield adds.
In its analysis of the disaster, the U.S. Insurance Information Institute (III) says insurance losses will be modest while the growth rates for insurance in South and East Asia are growing, there is still relatively low penetration compared to countries like the U.S. For example, in Malaysia, where non-life insurance concentration is relatively high compared to other affected countries, premiums per capita equal US$87. In the U.S. per capita premiums are US$1,980. Premiums as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) in Indonesia, one of the most heavily affected areas, are just 0.83%. In the U.S., non-life premiums represent 5.23% of GDP, or more than six times as much. Even for those who have some kind of property policy in place, there are often exclusions for such things as earthquake and flood risk in standard policies, although coverage varies greatly amongst countries.
Most affected will be local insurers, while some foreign European and Asian insurers operating in the area could see losses, the III notes.

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