Earthquakes Will Kill Over 3 Million People This Century, Study Shows

Most earthquakes do not harm anyone, but some kill thousands at a time. As the number of people living on the planet continues to rise, so does the number of people living in earthquake-prone regions. The Weather Channel cited a study today that originally appeared in Earthquake Spectra, which predicted that 3.5 million people will die in earthquakes between 2001 and 2100.

“The more people [there are] on the planet, the higher the probability of more catastrophic earthquakes,” Geologist Tom Holzer told OurAmazingPlanet. “Most earthquakes don’t actually kill anybody. What is required is a concentration of people in harm’s way.”

Holzer is the author of the study and works with the US Geological Survey in Menlo Park, CA. He predicted that the added toll of these earthquakes will put stress on increasingly strapped aid agencies.

For the study, Holzer and his colleague James Savage analyzed the historic records of earthquakes going as far back as 856 A.D. and compared those numbers to estimates of the world’s population. Their results ranged from 2.3 million to 5 million deaths, but their most reliable figure was 3.5 million, which they predicted would occur due to 21 catastrophic earthquakes.

The researchers do not claim that future earthquakes will occur at a higher frequency. Rather, the fatalities occur from a higher number of people living in poorly constructed buildings in earthquake-prone regions. 62 percent of the world’s population now lives in countries with significant seismic risk.

“There are places, like along the front of the Himalayas, that are just waiting for another disaster,” Holzer said. “China, the Middle East and many of the cities in these places just don’t design to resist earthquakes. If we don’t address this, we’re going to see many more catastrophes than we’ve seen historically, and humanitarian aid efforts are going to be stressed even more over this century. We’re going to see more Haiti-type situations.”

Global earthquake death toll from 2000 to 2012

Earthquakes have already killed nearly a million people in little over a decade since the turn of the century.

[Image via fotostory /].