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Chennai flash floods were the largest natural catastrophe in India in 2015: Swiss Re sigma study

According to the latest sigma study by Swiss Re, India’s total economic losses from all disasters, including natural and man-made events exceeded USD 6.2 billion (or 6.8% of worldwide losses) in 2015, down from USD 13.4 billion (11.9% of global losses) in 2014. Total insured losses were USD 1 billion, up from USD 971 million the year before. Based on sigma criteria, there were 25 catastrophic events in India last year, up from 20 in 2014. The severe flash floods in Chennai in November were the largest disaster, causing estimated economic losses of USD 2.2 billion. Insured losses were estimated at around USD 755 million, making these floods the second costliest insurance event in India on sigma records. A large part of the losses originated from commercial lines. The event highlighted the vulnerability of rapidly growing urban areas to flash floods caused by heavy rains.

Vulnerability to earthquake hazards

In India, uninsured losses from all catastrophes and man-made disasters were 84% of the total losses in 2015, down from 93% in 2014. Although the protection gap was smaller last year than in 2014, it was still high relative to global and regional standards. The global protection gap was around 60% in 2015, down from 68% in 2014. In Asia, the gap was at 81% in 2015, down from 90% in 2014.

Many cities in northern India are located close to the seismic gap in the Himalayan range. A seismic gap is an area where plate movement has already produced land deformation but – as of yet – not releasedthe associated energy in the form of an earthquake. The likelihood of earthquakes in seismic gaps is very high, and the expected magnitude of such an earthquake in the Himalayas is Mw 8.0–8.5. Many Indian cities, including the national capital, Delhi, are close to the gap and are vulnerable to earthquakes. According to the 2011 census data, around 90% of Delhi’s building stock falls in the category of unreinforced masonry, which is not earthquake-resistant.

Technology in disaster risk management

Today, aerial and digital technologies play a large role in disaster management. For example, drones were used during the Chennai floods to locate people who were stranded by the rising waters. Local tech workers created a crowdsourcing site,, to provide people with information about food and shelter, and to help with rehabilitation efforts. Facebook activated its Safety Check feature to allow flood-affected people to signal that they were safe. The latest sigma study includes more examples of the utility of technology in disaster risk management.

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