Thailand is no stranger to floods. Europeans once called Bangkok the “Venice of Asia”. But rarely have they done so much economic damage. October’s deluge cost $40 billion, the most expensive disaster in the country’s history. J.P. Morgan estimates that it set back global industrial production by 2.5%.
Such multi-billion-dollar natural disasters are becoming common. Five of the ten costliest, in terms of money rather than lives, were in the past four years (see map). Munich Re, a reinsurer, reckons their economic costs were $378 billion last year, breaking the previous record of $262 billion in 2005 (in constant 2011 dollars). Besides the Japanese and Thai calamities, New Zealand suffered an earthquake, Australia and China floods, and America a cocktail of hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires and floods. Barack Obama issued a record 99 “major disaster declarations” in 2011.