Two million evacuated
in China as Typhoon
Lekima makes landfall in the Western Pacific

Typhoon Lekima, the ninth storm of the season, caused widespread damage with torrential rains and strong gales across the Philippines (where it is known as Typhoon Hanna), the Ryukyu Islands, Taiwan and eastern China.

Figure 1: Illustration of the path and impact of Lekima. (Data Source: ReliefWeb, 2019a.)

Summary of Lekima

Originating as a tropical depression in the Philippine Sea, Lekima intensified to peak as a Category 4-equivalent super typhoon with wind speeds of 150 mph (~240 kph) (Weather Underground, 2019). While the typhoon weakened to a Category 2-equivalent before making landfall in east China, the outer bands of the super typhoon resulted in flooding in Taiwan with one station recording a daily maximum of 390mm of rainfall (NASA, 2019). This also significantly increased the risk of landslides in a country which had just experienced a magnitude 6.0 earthquake on 8 August.

China’s National Meteorological Center (NMC) issued a red alert, the most serious in its alert system, early on 8 August as the typhoon approached the east coast. This prompted the evacuation of more than a million people and the suspension of numerous ferries, railways and flights over the weekend (Xinhuanet, 2019c). As of 13 August, two million people had been evacuated and 12.88 million affected (ReliefWeb, 2019b).

Lekima made landfall on 10 August at 02:00 local time (18:00 on 9 August UTC) in the province of Zhejiang, near Shitangzhen, with sustained winds of almost 98 mph (157 kph), equivalent to a Category 3 hurricane (AccuWeather, 2019). The collapse of a natural dam in Yongjia county, south-east of Zhejiang, occurred following a downpour of 160mm of rain in three hours. This caused the river level to rise by 10 metres within 10 minutes, trapping 120 villagers (Xinhuanet, 2019a). 49 people are now known to have died with more still missing (Xinhuanet, 2019b).

A second landfall was made on the Qingdao coastline, Shangdong province, on 11 August as the typhoon progressed northwards, although with decreasing intensity. Nonetheless, Weifgang recorded its largest rainfall measurement since records began in 1952, peaking at 217.55mm (Xinhaunet, 2019b).

The total economic loss from Lekima is estimated at 18 billion yuan or USD $2.55 billion (Reuters, 2019). The typhoon is estimated to have destroyed 13,000 buildings, while causing damage to a further 119,000 in some capacity (ReliefWeb, 2019b). Heavy losses also occurred to agriculture with local insurance firms having already received USD $29.7 million in agriculture-related claims (ReliefWeb, 2019c).

The average tropical cyclone season

Lekima is the ninth storm of this year’s North-West Pacific tropical cyclone season. This region typically sees most storms develop during June to November. The area is the most active weather basin in the world, accounting for one-third of the world’s tropical cyclone activity (Insurance Asia News, 2019). From 1988 to 2018, there were on average 31.77 tropical cyclones and 16 typhoons or major typhoons per year (Met Office, 2019). A ranking of the top 10 costliest storms in Asia can be seen in the table below, which highlights the significant damage these storms can cause.

Table 1: The top 10 insured losses from tropical storms in Asia, 1980 – 2014. (Data Source: Munich RE, 2015.)

Figure 2: Number of tropical cyclones in the North-West Pacific Basin since 1988. (Data Source: Met Office, 2019.)

Looking to the future – climate change and the growth of China’s insurance market

Tropical cyclones are expected to increase in intensity due to climate change (Seneviratne et al., 2012). With more extreme precipitation and maximum wind speeds expected from some events, losses could increase. However, it should be noted that as the frequency of tropical cyclones may decrease (or experience little significant change) in overall terms, average annual losses may also decrease.

In China, flooding is the driving cause of economic loss from natural catastrophes due to a combination of significant flood hazard and fast-paced growth in flood-exposed areas. It is estimated to contribute 58.8% of the average annual loss due to natural hazards in China (Prevention Web, 2014). The insurance market in China has grown significantly in recent years, from USD $34 billion in non-life premiums in 2007 to USD $224 billion in 2017 (Swiss Re Institute, 2019a). China is now the second largest insurance market behind the US and contributes to ~10% of global premiums. However, despite rapid growth, flood insurance penetration remains low. In the July 2016 flood event, which saw the highest economic loss since 1998, less than 2% of the estimated USD $33 billion loss was covered by insurance (Aon, 2016).

Therefore, there is still sizeable potential for future growth in this market. With growth slowing in more established markets, emerging economies in Asia are forecast to drive global insurance market growth over the next decade with China set to become the largest insurance market in the world by the mid-2030s (Swiss Re Institute, 2019b).

JBA recently released the first combined river and surface water flood model for China, developed in collaboration with Aspen Insurance Holdings Limited. This includes both typhoon and non-typhoon driven events. With rapid development in flood-exposed areas and increasing insurance take-up, the Continental China Flood Model identifies the risk drivers and presents a comprehensive insight to flood risk in this growing market. JBA also has return period flood hazard maps available for China. For more information, please get in touch.


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