Deaths from landslides up to 10 times worse than thought

The death toll from landslides is 10 times higher than generally estimated, with most fatalities occurring in South Asia, China and Latin America, according to a British study published on Thursday.

In the seven years between 2004 and 2010, 2,620 fatal landslides occurred around the world, causing 32,322 deaths, researchers at Durham University, northeastern England said, adding that the figure was conservative.

Fatalities occur most during the northern hemisphere's summer, especially during the Asian monsoon, and among densely-populated slums built on deforested slopes, they said.

Hotspots in Asia include the southern edge of the Himalayas, Sri Lanka, the Chinese coasts and the mountains around the Sichuan basin in central China, Taiwan and the Philippines, the island of Java in Indonesia.

In the western hemisphere, deadly landslides occur most in Haiti and in highlands from Mexico through Colombia to Chile, where denuded slopes are vulnerable to storms.

"Landslides are a global hazard requiring a major change in perception and policy," said author David Petley, a professor of geography at the university's International Landslide Centre.

The database, published in the US journal Geology, should be a useful guide for policymakers, he said.

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

The study defined landslides as movements of rock and soil incurring loss of life, for which an earthquake was not responsible.

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