Latin America’s Insurance Industry Braces for Rare ENSO Climate Impact

ENSO - Impact El Nino - Latin America

Latin America is bracing for a unique climatic phenomenon that could significantly impact its insurance sector. Experts from the Swiss Re Institute have highlighted the necessity of both adaptation and mitigation to increase resilience against severe weather events prompted by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. This cycle, predicted to shift rapidly between its phases, presents a substantial challenge to the region’s ability to protect itself from the resulting disruptions.

The Phenomenon of ENSO

El Niño and La Niña Explained

The El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is a climate pattern that describes the fluctuation in ocean temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. It has two main phases: El Niño, which is associated with warmer ocean temperatures and increased rainfall in certain parts of the world, and La Niña, characterized by cooler ocean temperatures and reduced rainfall in those regions. These phases typically last for several months to a few years, with El Niño and La Niña alternating every 2-7 years.

The effects of ENSO can be felt in various regions around the world, but Latin America is particularly vulnerable due to its geographical location. Countries such as Peru, Ecuador, and Chile are heavily dependent on the effects of ENSO, with their economies largely driven by agriculture. Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and hurricanes can disrupt food production and lead to economic losses for these countries.

Predictions for 2023-24

Weather forecasts indicate a return to ENSO neutral conditions starting in May, with a more than 80% chance of a swift transition to La Niña in late summer and fall. Historically, such rapid transitions between these phases have been rare, with only two occurrences since 1950. This unpredictable climate behavior poses significant challenges for Latin America, potentially exacerbating protection gaps in agriculture and property.

ENSO - Predictions

Recent Severe Weather Events

The 2023-24 El Niño has already brought heatwaves, wildfires, floods, and optimal conditions for mosquito breeding across various countries, including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, and Peru. These events have led to significant agricultural and infrastructure damage, as well as health emergencies.

The Threat of La Niña

A swift transition to La Niña could further strain the region, prolonging a three-year period of high inflation due to supply shocks affecting food and energy prices. The last La Niña in 2021/22 resulted in record droughts and crop yield shortfalls, contributing to higher global food prices.

The Role of Insurance in Mitigating Risks

Despite improvements in crop resilience due to higher insurance penetration and supportive government policies, Latin America’s insurance gap remains substantial. For instance, Brazil and Mexico’s weather-related insurance resilience indices are significantly lower than those of advanced economies and some emerging market peers.

The Need for Enhanced Adaptation and Mitigation

To combat the effects of ENSO, experts emphasize the importance of not just insurance but also building adaptation and loss mitigation measures. Parametric insurance solutions are suggested as a means to facilitate swift economic recovery post-disaster. However, increasing overall resilience against climate extremes is crucial for the long-term protection of the region.


The impending ENSO events pose a significant test for Latin America’s insurance sector and its broader efforts to safeguard against climate-induced disruptions. While insurance plays a vital role in recovery, a multifaceted approach involving adaptation, mitigation, and enhanced insurance solutions is essential for building a resilient future for the region.

Furthermore, the economic implications can be significant, as agriculture, a primary source of income for many Latin American communities, is especially vulnerable to ENSO effects. Crop failures and loss of livestock can lead to increased food prices and heightened economic instability. For urban residents, infrastructure damage due to severe weather can disrupt transportation, communication, and access to services.

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