Philippine capital tops global population-at-risk index for working days lost relative to national impact

A recent study examining the human and economic risks faced by urban communities around the globe is disturbing reading for the residents of two of south-east Asia’s biggest cities.

The Swiss Re report, Mind the Risk: A global ranking of cities under threat from natural disasters, benchmarks the natural catastrophe risks faced by 1.7 billion city-dwellers in 616 metropolitan centres around the world. Manila has the dubious honour of being the world’s worst-exposed urban area in terms of working days lost relative to national impact of catastrophic floods, storms, storm surges, earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Philippine capital is second on the list of urban areas with the most people potentially affected by these five perils (after the Tokyo-Yokohama region), while Jakarta comes fifth after the Pearl River Delta in China and Osaka-Kobe in Japan.

The study shows that floods endanger more city residents than any other natural peril, followed by earthquakes and storms. Swiss Re head of flood risk Jens Mehlhorn said that flooding continued to wreak havoc across all areas of the world. “No one is immune from this ever-present disaster threat,” he said. “Sadly, without insurance, the impact of these events is severe for many.”

Indeed, flooding was a main driver of nat cat losses across the world in H1 2013, causing an estimated $8bn in insurance claims globally. As a result, 2013 is already the second most expensive calendar year in terms of insured flood losses. In 2011, the Thailand event alone brought record flood losses of more than $16bn.

Mehlhorn said: “While we cannot stop future floods, we believe that preventative actions can be taken to mitigate the overall impact of extreme weather events.”

Only last month, exceptional rains enhanced by the passage of Typhoon Trami fell across the Philippines. At the peak of the event, 60% of Metro Manila was under water, and overall damages are estimated to be more than $2bn.

The group chief underwriting officer at Swiss Re, Matthias Weber (pictured), said that major river floods alone had the potential to affect 380 million people living in the world’s cities. “We need to better understand what makes cities more resilient and what decisions about investments and infrastructure are needed to minimise the loss of life, property and economic production,” he said. “Mind the Risk is a basis for local decision-makers, the insurance industry and the broader public to promote dialogue on both fronts and work towards making cities truly resilient.”