With populations growing in the world's earthquake-prone
regions, catastrophic quakes will kill more people during this century
than ever before, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey warn.
Thomas L. Holzer, an engineering geologist at the survey's Menlo Park offices, and James Savage,
a retired survey seismologist, estimate that 21 earthquakes with death
tolls greater than 50,000 - the kind they term "catastrophic" - will
occur around the world before the end of this century, while only seven
such killer quakes were recorded during the 20th century.
not that we're having more earthquakes, it's that more people are living
in seismically vulnerable buildings in the world's earthquake zones,"
Earthquake fatalities around the world will reach at
least 3.5 million in the 21st century - more than double the 1.5 million
in the 20th century, the scientists forecast.
"And unless we take
this issue of vulnerable buildings seriously, we're going to see even
more catastrophes before the end of this century," Holzer said.
The current century began "most ominously," the scientists noted, when
at least 700,000 people died in just seven deadly quakes within the
first 10 years - an unprecedented decade of catastrophe, they reported. The scientists based their forecast on U.N.
estimates that the world's population will reach 10 billion by the end
of this century. They combined that number with historic records of
earthquake-prone regions where building standards are known to be
weakest. Fatalities from major quakes have been estimated as far back as
A.D. 1500, and modern records of quake deaths are known to be
"California and Japan have shown slow
progress in designing quake resistance in their buildings," Holzer
noted. "But in countries like China and Iran, and all along the front
region of the Himalayan range, entire cities from Kathmandu to Delhi are
particularly vulnerable to catastrophic quakes."
"There is no question that we are currently seeing a rapid increase in the number of catastrophes from earthquakes," said Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley's Earthquake Engineering Laboratory,
who was not involved in the study. "Therefore, we should not be
complacent about the earthquake risks we face in the coming decades and
ensure that we are taking reasonable actions to push back on the
increasing trend in the number of fatalities."