Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Natural disasters caused less damage in 2009

Troops in the wreckage of a hotel in Padang
The earthquake in Sumatra claimed the highest death toll in 2009

Natural catastrophes took fewer lives and caused less damage this year than in 2008, according to the re-insurance group Munich Re.

In its annual study, the group said the absence of major disasters and a benign hurricane season in the North Atlantic were the main reasons.

Economic losses totalled about $50bn (£31bn), compared with $200bn in 2008.

However, it said the total number of destructive events was above the long-term average - with 850 recorded.

"The trend towards an increase in weather-related catastrophes continues, whilst there has fundamentally been no change in the risk of geophysical events such as earthquakes," said Professor Peter Hoeppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research.

The group said that weather-related natural catastrophes had tripled since 1950. Board member Torsten Jeworrek said: "It is very disappointing that no breakthrough was achieved at the Copenhagen climate summit."

The death toll this year stands at about 10,000 - that compares with an average of 75,000 in the past 10 years. The earthquake in the Indonesian island of Sumatra took the most lives, with 1,200 people killed.

Munich Re said that Winter Storm Klaus, which hit northern Spain and south-west France in January, was the "costliest" disaster, with insured losses costing $3bn and economic losses $5.1bn.

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