The global cost of natural and man-made disasters more than tripled in 2010 to 218 billion USD, reinsurer Swiss Re said on March 29, with the human toll the highest for decades.

2010 was not only characterised by severe earthquakes that ranked among the deadliest, costliest and most powerful in history, but also by a series of extreme weather events, such as major floods, said Thomas Hess, chief economist of Swiss Re.

Such "severe catastrophes" claimed 304,000 lives last year, the highest level since 1976, compared to 15,000 in 2009, the report added.

These disasters cost the global insurance industry over 43 billion USD in 2010, up by more than 60 percent from the previous year.

Earthquake losses - in particular those in Chile and New Zealand - accounted for almost one-third of all disaster losses in 2010, and high claims from seismic activity are expected to continue in 2011.

Incidentally, earthquake losses for 2011 will also be above average as the total insured claims for the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch , New Zealand , are estimated to be between 6 billion USD and 12 billion USD, said the reinsurer.

The massive Tohoku earthquake that struck Sendai, Japan, on March 11 is also expected to trigger significant insured losses, it added.

Swiss Re estimated last week that Japan 's earthquake and tsunami have cost the company some 1.2 billion USD, but warned that this figure could be revised upwards./.