Increasing population in seismically active areas means death toll could double in 21st century
By Summit Voice
FRISCO — Growing populations in earthquake-prone areas are setting the stage for an uptick in catastrophic quakes in the 21st century, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey scientists who evaluated historical earthquake data back to about 1500 AD against projected population increases.
Based on the data, the researchers concluded that there will be more individual earthquakes with very large death tolls as well as more people dying during earthquakes than ever before.
The study projects that about 21 catastrophic earthquakes will occur in the 21st century, triple the number during the 20th century. They also predict that total deaths in the century could more than double to approximately 3.5 million people if world population grows to 10.1 billion by 2100 from 6.1 billion in 2000.
Four catastrophic earthquakes have already struck since the beginning of the 21st century, including the 2004 Sumatra-Andaman earthquake (and tsunami) and 2010 Haiti earthquake that each may have killed over 200,000 people.
The study explains that earthquakes haven’t become more frequent, rather, that more people are living in seismically vulnerable buildings in the world’s earthquake zones.
“This prediction need not be a prophesy: the National Earthquake Hazard Reduction Program (NEHRP) in the U.S. can be a model for how science can inform engineering designs that are adopted into life-saving building codes in earthquake-prone regions,” said David Applegate, USGS associate director for natural hazards. “I also cannot stress enough the value of educated citizens — those who understand the natural hazards of this planet and are empowered to take action to reduce their risk.”
The study underscores the need to build residential and commercial structures that will not collapse and kill people during earthquake shaking.
“Without a significant increase in seismic retrofitting and seismic-resistant construction in earthquake hazard zones at a global scale, the number of catastrophic earthquakes and earthquake fatalities will continue to increase and our predictions are likely to be fulfilled,” said Thomas Holzer, the study’s lead author.
The study, “Global Earthquake Fatalities and Population,” is available online.