India tops the world in landslide deaths

Human fingerprints behind these exacerbating problem

A building damaged after landslide at Vithiri in Wayanad on August 10, 2018. PTI

With close to 11,000 deaths due to the landslides in 12 years, India tops a global list of nearly 56,000 deaths from 4,800 landslides around the world between 2004 and 2016.

India not only accounts for 20% of global landslide deaths but also has the dubious distinction witnessing the fastest rise in human-triggered fatal landslides in the world.

The human trigger comes from both legal and illegal mining, illegal hill cutting, construction, conflict, dam collapse and pipe leaking. Moreover, natural events like rainfall and quakes also trigger landslides.

The global fatal landslide database, painstakingly prepared by the geography department at the University of Sheffield over 13 years, chronicles how human fingerprints are increasingly being seen behind fatal landslides, particularly in Asian countries.

Of the 4,862 non-seismic landslide events in the complete database, 770 cases (16 %) were generated by a non-seismic, non-rainfall trigger and resulted in 3,725 fatalities.

The majority of the landslides were triggered by mining (232 multi-fatality landslide events and 67 single-fatality landslides), construction (170 & 140) or illegal hill cutting (60 & 27).

“By country, most construction-triggered landslide events occurred in India (28%), followed by China (9%), Pakistan (6%), the Philippines (5%), Nepal (5%) and Malaysia (5%),” the team of Dave Petley and Melanie Froude reported in the European Geo-sciences Union journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences on Thursday.

Asked about the landslides in Kodagu district of Karnataka and Kerala, Petley, vice-president for research and innovation at the University of Sheffield said, “Kerala and parts of Karnataka are undoubtedly naturally landslide-prone because of the combination of monsoon rainfall and upland areas. But human activities are exacerbating these problems. The occupation of dangerous areas, inadequate water management, poor construction practices, road building, quarrying and hill cutting all contribute to increased landslide hazard.”

“The recent landslides in Kerala and southern Karnataka after heavy rains have been a continuation of these problems,” Petley, told DH.

“Humans are placing increasing pressure on their local environment, but it was surprising to find clear trends that fatal landslides triggered by construction, illegal hill cutting and illegal mining were increasing globally during the period of 2004 to 2016,” said Froude.

While the trend is global, Asia is the most affected continent.”All countries in the top 10 for fatal landslides triggered by human activity are located in Asia,” she added.

Fresh findings from the UK team comes at a time when scientists from National Geophysical Research Institute is touring Kodagu to pinpoint the cause of the landslide that has caused massive damage.

Out of all the landslides recorded in the database over 13 years, the most tragic one was the Kedarnath landslide in June 2013, which resulted in over 5,000 deaths. Both Himalayan arc and Indian states generate a large number of landslides, says the database.

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India tops the world in landslide deaths

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