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Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience


Landslide fatalities give warning for the future

(17 January 2012)

New research on the number of deaths caused by landslides may be key to understanding their global impact and managing them in order to save lives.

Prof Dave Petley examined nine years of rainfall-induced landslide events from the Durham Fatal Landslide database, a global record of losses of life from landslides that is maintained by the International Landslide Centre at Durham University.

From 2004-2010 he recorded over 2,400 non-seismic landslide events, many of them concentrated in Asia and South America. These landslides were responsible for over 32,200 deaths, far more than had been previously understood. In addition, another 49,000 people were killed by landslides triggered by earthquakes over the same period.

The size of landslides, as measured by the number of deaths, follows what is known as a power law relationship, meaning that the ratio of small, medium and large landslide events stays remarkably consistent from year to year. Power laws have long been known to describe landslide areas and volumes, but this is the first time that they have been shown also to apply to the number of people killed in each event. This is potentially very useful in the assessment of the likely impact of future landslide events, such as those caused by earthquakes and large storms. Petley presented this research at the 2011 American Geophysical Union Meeting in December.

Read the full briefing on the research here.