German insurance giant Munich Re recently reported that Japan's earthquake and tsunami in March will make 2011 the costliest year on record for natural disasters.  Total economic losses for the first six months alone were $265 billion, making it the costliest natural catastrophe on record. Previously, the $220 billion recorded for all of 2005 was the most expensive year to date. The total loss amount was more than five times higher than the average of the past 10 years, Munich Re reported. Losses to insurance companies were around $60 billion, nearly five times the average since 2001.

"It is very rare for such an extreme accumulation of natural hazard events to be encountered as in the first half-year," Munich Re said in a statement. First-half losses are generally lower than second-half losses, which are often affected by hurricanes in the North Atlantic and typhoons in the Northwest Pacific, it added. The total number of loss-relevant natural events in the first six months of 2011 was 355, slightly below the average for the previous 10 years of 390. The next costliest natural disaster in the first half of 2011 was a severe earthquake that shook Christchurch, New Zealand, in February 2011, causing $20 billion in losses, Munich Re said.