11 May 2008

Landslide sizes (numbers killed) around the world

Posted by Dave Petley

One of the interesting aspects of our landslide fatality database is that it is possible to produce maps of the size of the impact of landslides (which in this case means the numbers of people killed) in each event around the world. I tried to do that for my EGU presentation, but my colleague Nick Rosser has produced a rather more attractive version (Fig. 1) showing the 2007 dataset.

Fig 1: Map of the size of the impact of landslides, as measured by the number of fatalities in each event, for 2007. Click on the map to open a larger version.

The variation in size is quite interesting. Note that in Europe, N. America and Japan the recorded landslides tend to be comparatively small, almost always resulting in less than five fatalities. South Asia and Central America on the other hand have a scatter of landslide sizes from small events through to the very large. China also has a high frequency of large landslides, but appears to have comparatively few small ones. Africa has surprisingly few recorded fatal landslides, but those that do occur tend to be quite large.

So what to make of this? Well, first and foremost it shows the different levels of mitigation of landslides around the world. In the more developed world (i.e. Europe and N. America), large landslides tend to be very well mitigated (i.e. engineering measures have been used to stabilise them). The few fatal landslides that do occur tend to be small and in fairly remote locations, resulting in low fatality counts. On the other hand, in South and South-East Asia, mitigation is much less likely and there is a high density of people in affected areas, meaning that fatality counts are much higher. There might also be an effect of the both the tectonic setting (i.e. the high mountains of S. Asia in particular might mean that the fatal landslides are larger) and the climate (i.e. torrential monsoon rainfall might tend to trigger very energetic landslides, which are more likely to kill, perhaps). Finally, the data also perhaps show that the current database still misses smaller landslide events in China and in particular in Africa. We are trying to improve this situation.

As ever your comments are really welcome.