Extreme precipitation in mid-July resulted in the costliest flooding events on record for German and Chinese insurers, which face potential losses of $6.5 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively, according to Aon’s monthly catastrophe report.

Germany is likely to see as much as $20 billion in direct economic damage, while the country’s insurers could see losses of €4.5 billion to €5.5 billion ($5.3 billion to $6.5 billion), which would be the costliest individual natural disaster for the German insurance industry on record.

Total economic losses in Europe for the flooding were expected to approach $25 billion, though this is a preliminary estimate and is likely to evolve. Overall, the event is likely to rank as the costliest weather event and second-costliest natural disaster event in Europe in the past 40 years (only behind the Irpinia Earthquake of 1980), on an inflation-adjusted basis, said Aon.

Catastrophic damage occurred across Western Germany, predominantly in Nordrhein-Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz federal states, with the official death toll listed at 197 – the deadliest in nearly three decades. The worst affected area was the Ahr River Valley, where the majority of fatalities occurred. Belgium recorded its deadliest and costliest flooding event in its history, with 42 confirmed fatalities and severe damage in Liege Province. Further extensive damage was noted in neighboring Netherlands, Luxembourg and France.

Chinese Floods

Meanwhile, historic rainfall prompted catastrophic flash flooding across China’s Henan Province from July 16-22, killing at least 302 people and injuring many others. The flooding generated extensive damage to property, agriculture and infrastructure across the region. Significant impacts were incurred in the Zhengzhou metro area on July 20 as all-time rainfall records were broken.

Additional flooding and dam failures resulted in fatalities and damage in nearby Hubei Province and the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. The total economic cost of flooding in China during the month of July was estimated at nearly $25 billion. The flood damage in Zhengzhou was anticipated to cost insurers up to $1.7 billion – the highest natural disaster payout for the Chinese insurance industry on record.

Extreme Weather Accelerates

“One of the hallmarks of climate change involves extreme events becoming more extreme. The recent release of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report confirms this to be true and notes an accelerating trend of these types of extremes as seen in observed events,” commented Steve Bowen, managing director and head of Catastrophe Insight on the Impact Forecasting team at Aon.

“The recent historic rainfall and flooding in Europe and Asia while juxtaposed against the most intense drought conditions recorded in North America in decades highlights the fragility of the climate system and the need to invest in actionable strategic solutions that lower physical and non-physical risks. Improving and stabilizing these risks is essential, but also achievable,” he continued.

Other worldwide natural hazard events during July include:

  • Hurricane Elsa. A weakened Hurricane Elsa made landfall in a rural region of Taylor County, Florida, as a tropical storm on July 7. Elsa generated widespread flash flooding and severe weather from July 7-9 while tracking through the Southeast and along the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast coastlines. Total economic losses in the United States were estimated at $775 million. Roughly two-thirds of the costs were insured. Prior to U.S. landfall, Elsa also generated notable impacts in the Caribbean.
  • Wildfires. Significant wildfires broke out in Turkey, Greece and other Mediterranean countries in late July amid a historic heatwave and continued into early August, killing eight people and damaging more than 2,700 structures in Turkey alone. Elsewhere, devastating wildfires broke out in California and Oregon in the United States. Dixie Fire, which was ignited on July 13, underwent an explosive growth that extended into August and became the second largest in California’s modern record. The event destroyed nearly 600 structures.
  • Severe U.S. Weather. Multiple outbreaks of severe weather affected the United States throughout the month of July, with a particularly costly stretch between July 8-11. In the Midwest region of the United States, the worst damage was seen in Iowa, where extensive property and agricultural damage occurred due to baseball-size or larger hailstones which struck the Des Moines region. Additionally, localized severe weather and heavy rainfall associated with the seasonal Southwest Monsoon impacted parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Aggregated thunderstorm-related economic damage in July was likely to result in a multi-billion-dollar economic and insured cost.
  • Colombia Floods. Much of Colombia recorded heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding throughout the month of July. The hardest-hit departments included Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Antioquia, Arauca, Meta, Caquetá, Cundinamarca, Atlántico and Santander. At least six deaths and 27 injuries were reported, and more than 5,800 homes were damaged. Total economic losses were expected into the millions of U.S. dollars.
  • India Monsoons. Seasonal monsoon flooding and associated convective storms continued in India throughout July, including a particularly intense spell from July 22-28. Hundreds of people were killed in July as the seasonal death toll rose to 534. The total economic loss in India increased to at least $1.6 billion, which is mostly uninsured.
  • Floods in New Zealand. New Zealand’s South Island was affected by severe floods following heavy rainfall from July 15-18. Hundreds of people were evacuated from the worst-affected areas in the Marlborough and Buller districts. Total economic losses were estimated in the tens of millions of U.S. dollars.

Source: Aon/Impact Forecasting

Photograph: Debris in a street after flooding in Schuld near Bad Neuenahr, western Germany, on July 15, 2021. Photo credit: Bernd Lauter/AFP/Getty Images.

*This story ran previously in our sister publication Insurance Journal.