Landslides 'kill more than previously thought'

A landslide in China's Sichuan province Landslides often kill a smaller number of people than other weather events but occur frequently

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Landslides kill up to 10 times more people across the world than previously thought, according to a study by a UK university.

Durham University has calculated that 32,300 people died in landslides between 2004 and 2010.

Earlier estimated suggested the toll was between 3,000 and 7,000 people.

Weather patterns, deforestation and increasingly dense population settlements were factors in the toll caused by landslides, the study said.

The report's main author, David Petley, said landslides should be seen as a major global hazard.

"Areas with a combination of high relief, intense rainfall, and a high population density are most likely to experience high numbers of fatal landslides," he said.

Mitigating risk

He explained that there were several reasons that earlier estimates put the number of those killed during landslides at a lower figure.

Global landslide hotspots

  • Southern edge of the Himalayan Arc
  • South-west coast of India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Southern and eastern coasts of China
  • Central China, notably the mountains around the Sichuan Basin
  • Western edge of the Philippine Sea plate (Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines)
  • Central Caribbean islands, including Haiti
  • Indonesia, especially Java
  • Along the mountainous chain from Mexico, Central America, to Chile, South America, especially Colombia

"Other data sets tends to collect data on the basis of trigger - hurricane or typhoon. Most of the other data sets also have a higher threshold - they only record events that kill 10 people or more, for example, but there are lots of landslides that kill relatively small numbers of people."

He added that controlling land use, managing forests and discouraging development in vulnerable areas could help manage and mitigate landslide risks.

The study, which has spanned almost a decade, said that areas where landslides are more likely to occur are countries which sit along the Himalayan Arc - India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh - as well as China, and Central and South America.

The main global trigger for landslides is monsoon rain which causes a spike in the number of fatal landslides each year between May and October.

Tropical cyclones also generate extreme rainfall, leading to landslides in Asia, and hurricanes have the same effect on regions in the Caribbean and Central America.

The figures, which the university said are likely to still be underestimates, do not include landslides triggered by earthquakes and were calculated using government statistics, aid agency reports and research papers.

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