Study: 3.5 Million People Will Die From Earthquakes This Century

Categories: Environment

Thumbnail image for earthquakeSF1906.jpg
San Francisco, post-1906 quake.
Here in San Francisco, we live under constant threat of a catastrophic earthquake. It's a subconscious worry, perhaps only creeping to the front of our minds as we drive over the Bay Bridge or step out of the shower (would you grab a pair of shorts before bolting for the nearest doorway?).

We know it's coming. Might be later today. Might be in 100 years. Either way, it'll be bad. But this is a first-world city with first-world infrastructure, better prepared than most places around the world.

And as populations rise in every corner of the earth, so do the number of people living under constant threat of a catastrophic earthquake. A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in this month's Earthquake Spectra, has quantified what this means: An estimated 3.5 million people will die from earthquakes this century, more than double the total of the last one.

The number of catastrophic quakes -- defined as tremors with death tolls higher than 50,000 -- will triple from seven in the 20th century to 21 in the 21st century, according to the study, authored by USGS engineering geologists Thomas L. Holzer and James C. Savage, who work out of the agency's Menlo Park office.

It's not that there will be more earthquakes. Rather, more and more people are living in areas prone to earthquake destruction, particularly in the developing world. The study notes that nearly two-thirds of the world's population live in regions where earthquakes pose a significant hazard.

"There are places, like along the front of the Himalayas, that are just waiting for another disaster," Holzer said, according to The Weather Channel. "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."

To reach their estimates, the researchers compared death tolls from past earthquakes -- as far back as the ninth century -- with contemporary populations rates, then measured that correlation against future population projections (the United Nations predict that our world population will hit 10.1 billion by 2100).

Modern global earthquake policy has focused on sending resources after the disaster -- Red Cross tents and volunteers and food packages dropped from helicopters. But, as the authors suggest, preventative measures are also essential.

"Without a significant increase in seismic retrofitting and seismic-resistant construction in earthquake hazard zones at a global scale, the number of catastrophic earthquakes and earthquake fatalities will continue to increase and our predictions are likely to be fulfilled," Holzer said in a statement.

Before 1900, there was one catastrophic (resulting in at least 50,000 deaths) earthquake per century. Between 1900 and 2000, there were seven. In the 12 or so years since, there have been four. If anything, the researchers may have presented conservative numbers. According to the USGS, the world has already seen more than 700,000 earthquake fatalities in this young century.

My Voice Nation Help
mrericsir topcommenter

Someone better double check this with Jose Canseco.


Let's remember, it is not the event itself, but the destruction of buildings, that causes the most serious damage.  And let's not forget that there is no way of evacuating casualties or getting help in SF.  Our main plan after the next Big One was the Army at the Presidio and the Navy at TI.  We haven't expanded our own systems, in fact, since Letterman Army Medical Center closed (our only Medi_Vac) we shut down 5 or was it 6 ERs, closed maybe half the ward space .. .while buildng more and more collapsible structures in harm's way.  particularly SOMA and Mission Bay.  FEMA said not to, even.  Unlike Sandy, there will be no warning, unlike Fukashima, we can't go inland, we are surrounded by water, and the East, South, and North Bay will be in even deeper shit than SF.  Most of the deaths will be caused by the lack of any emergency medical care, lack of food, water, attacks by looters and violent thugs, fires, etc.  No way in or out, they've built up the embarcadero and let the docks fall apart, so even if there are ships to land, no one will be able to get to them. 


SF may not be in a third world country, but we're still seriously unprepared.

Now Trending

Around The Web

From the Vault


©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.