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Fatal landslides caused by human activity becoming more frequent

Fatal landslides caused by human activity becoming more frequent. Researchers at Sheffield University collected data on over 4,800 fatal landslides that took place worldwide between 2004 and 2016, and found that around 56,000 lives were lost as a result. The study also revealed that deadly landslide events caused by human activities are on the rise.

Out of the fatal landslides analyzed by the team, over 700 could be linked to human activities. The biggest contributors were legal and illegal mining, construction, and the unregulated carving of hills.

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

While the trend of human-caused landslides was found to be rising across the planet, Asia experienced the most of these incidents. “All countries in the top 10 for fatal landslide triggered by human activity are located in Asia,” said Froude.

India has the highest rate of increasing human-caused deadly landslides in Asia, followed by Pakistan, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Outside of Asia, where 75 percent of the landslides examined in the study occurred, the areas most affected are in Central and South America, the Caribbean islands, and East Africa.

The researchers also found that 79 percent of the landslides in their database were triggered by rainfall. Most events happened during the summer season of the northern hemisphere, when cyclones, hurricanes, and typhoons are more frequent and Asia has its monsoon season.

Fatal landslides are more common in settlements, along roads, and at sites rich in precious resources. According to the researchers, deadly landslides occur more frequently in poor countries and affect poor people disproportionately.

In the Himalayan mountain region, particularly in Nepal and India, many of the fatal landslides occurred on road construction sites in rural areas, while in China many took place in urban construction sites.

“The prevalence of landslides in these settings suggests that regulations to protect workers and the public are insufficient or are not being sufficiently enforced,” said Froude. “In the case of roads, maintaining safety during construction is difficult when it is economically unviable to completely shut roads because alternative routes involve substantial 100 mile + detours.”

Landslides triggered by hill cutting are primarily an issue in rural areas, where many people illegally remove materials from hillsides to build houses.

“We found several incidences of children being caught-up in slides triggered as they collected coloured clay from hillslopes, for decoration of houses during religious festivals in Nepal,” said Froude. “Educating communities who undertake this practice on how to do it safely, will save lives.”

“With appropriate regulation to guide engineering design, education and enforcement of regulation by specialist inspectors, landslides triggered by construction, mining and hillcutting are entirely preventable.”

The research is published in the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Vaibhav Kaul, University of Sheffield

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