The devastating earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand yesterday was the latest, deadliest natural disaster to strike the region in recent months.

For insurers, losses as a result of the catastrophe are likely to be the largest since Hurricane Ike led to around US$20bn in insured losses in 2008. Early estimates suggest that the Christchurch quake may cost the insurance industry up to US$8bn. This follows an earthquake that struck near Christchurch less than six months ago and cost insurers US$3bn. Australia, meanwhile, was hit with two costly natural disasters earlier this year, as widespread flooding across Queensland caused an estimated US$2bn in insured losses in January, while Cyclone Yasi, which touched down in Queensland in early February, could cost the industry up to US$1.5bn.

Last year, global insured losses from natural disasters were around US$38bn, according to Aon Benfield. The toll from catastrophic events so far this year is already a significant share of 2010’s total and, as the chief executive of an Australian insurance group put it today, “horrible from a human perspective and a financial perspective”.