Catastrophes continued to wreak material havoc in 2000, claiming 17,000 lives and directly causing losses of about £25bn, according to Swiss Re.

The loss to the insurance industry is estimated at £7.3bn, with £5bn resulting from natural catastrophes. Floods alone accounted for some £4bn.

About 9,000 of those who died were killed in man-made catastrophes, and two-thirds of these fatalities were transport-related, whether by land, air or sea.

Only the Tokai floods in Japan reached the £1bn threshold for a single event, leaving the claims burden from natural catastrophes relatively low.

This is in stark contrast to the preceding year in which seven $1bn (£676,788) storm and earthquake events brought the second highest losses in insurance history.