Durham University uncovers deadly problem

Beichuan new town slide overview, Sichuan.

Beichuan new town slide overview, Sichuan.

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UNIVERSITY experts believe landslides kill 10 times more people than previously thought.

Researchers from Durham University have created a database of hazards, which has revealed the latest figures.

The database, which provides the first detailed analysis of fatal landslides across the world, showing hot spots such as China, Central and South America and India, reveals 32,300 people died in landslides between 2004 and 2010, compared to previous estimates of between 3,000 to 7,000.

Researchers say the Durham Fatal Landslide Database, can help policymakers to prioritise areas for action to manage hazards and to lessen the risks to human populations living in hotspot regions.

Lead researcher Professor David Petley, a geographer at the International Landslide Centre and co-director of The Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, at Durham University, said: “The environmental effects of landslides are often devastating for human populations.

“We need to recognise the extent of the problem and take steps to manage what is a major environmental risk to people across the world. Our database will enable us to do this by identifying areas most at risk and could help to save thousands of lives.”

Researchers say that weather patterns, deforestation, melting permafrost in high mountainous areas and high and increasing human population densities, are important factors in the cause, distribution, number, extent and effects of landslides.

More fatal landslide events are recorded in May to October, and the dominant global trigger is rain from the monsoon.

Tropical cyclones also generate extreme rainfall events that trigger landslides in Asia and hurricanes have the same effect on regions in the Caribbean and Central America.

Professor Petley said: “Areas with a combination of high relief, intense rainfall and a high population density are most likely to experience high numbers of fatal landslides.

“Landslides are a global hazard requiring a major change in perception and policy.

“There are things that we can do to manage and mitigate landslide risks such as controlling land use, proactive forest management, and guiding development away from vulnerable areas.”

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Landslide hot spots

l Southern edge of Himalayan Arc.

l South west coast of India.

l Sri Lanka.

l Southern and eastern coasts of China.

l Central China, notably the Sichuan Basin.

l Western edge of the Philippine Sea plate.

l Central Caribbean islands including Haiti.

l Indonesia, especially in Java.

l Along the mountainous chain from Mexico to Chile, South America.