Space & Innovation

3 Million Earthquake Deaths for the 21st Century

Dying in an earthquake may become more frequent in the 21st century, warn U.S. Geological Survey seismologists. ->

Dying in an earthquake may become more frequent in the 21st century, warn U.S. Geological Survey seismologists. The problem isn't more temblors, however. The danger comes from the fact that growing populations are crowding into cities with flimsy buildings that are are more likely to collapse during a quake.

A total of between 2.6 and 3.1 million people are estimated to die in quakes in the coming century, according to the study. The number of quakes with a death toll over 50,000 may climb to 25 from a total of seven in the 20th century. Those numbers assume the global population will climb to 10.1 billion by the year 2100.

VIDEO: Earthquake Shake Table Rocks Buildings

The seismologists recommended quake-proofing buildings to prevent this massive loss of life.

"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," said study author USGS engineering geologist Thomas L. Holzer in a press release.

Unfortunately, I would note that many regions with the fastest growing populations are also some of the poorest. People simply don't have the resources to build earthquake-proof housing. The 2010 Haiti earthquake provided a tragic example of this.

PHOTOS: Japan Earthquake and Tsunami: Before and After

However, international organizations can help a nation overcome the limitations imposed by poverty. Groups like Engineers Without Borders lend professional expertise to engineering projects in the developing world. With improved infrastructure, citizens can begin to dig themselves out of the cycle of poverty.

Some argue that international aid groups are a form of neocolonialism. Or that they are an expression of the "white-savior" complex, in which a person from a wealthy European or North American nation swoops in to help people who supposedly couldn't help themselves. However, to break out of the poverty trap, a relatively small influx of outside help may be necessary for extremely disadvantaged nations, as documented in The End of Poverty, by Jeffrey Sachs.

Image: A poor neighborhood shows the damage after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince Haiti just before 5 pm January 12, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi United Nations Development Programme, Wikimedia Commons

UPDATE: March 11, 2012

-- This collection of satellite images was originally produced on March 14, 2011, days after the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami struck the northeast coast of Japan. The known death toll came to 15,848 with 3,305 missing. The tsunami also inundated the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant causing a series of failures that led to the world's largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. The above photos show Yuriage in Natori (top); and Yagawahama (bottom) -- both are in Miyagi prefecture.

PHOTOS: Top Five Cities on Faults

Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant

Image taken in 2004.

Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant

Image from March 12, 2011 (before outer shell collapse).

Industrial Site Just South of Fukushima I Power Plant

Image taken in 2004.

Industrial Site Just South of Fukushima I Power Plant

Image from March 12, 2011.

ANALYSIS: Japan, One Year Later: In the Radiation Zone

Village Two Miles South of Fukushima I Power Plant

Image taken in 2004.

Village Two Miles South of Fukushima I Power Plant

Image from March 12, 2011.

Fukushima II Power Plant

Image taken in 2004. Fukushima II Power Plant is located about 7 miles south of the Fukushima I Power Plant.

Fukushima II Power Plant

Image from March 12, 2011.

Tomioka in Futaba District, Fukushima Prefecture

Image taken in 2004.

Tomioka in Futaba District, Fukushima Prefecture

Image from March 12, 2011.

Central Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture

Image taken in 2003.

Central Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture

Image from March 12, 2011.

Ishinomaki

Image taken in 2002.

Ishinomaki

Image from March 12, 2011.

Iwaki Onahama

Image taken in 2005.

Iwaki Onahama

Image from March 12, 2011.

Iwaki Ueda

Image taken in 2005.

Iwaki Ueda

Image from March 12, 2011.

Minamisoma Haranomachi

Image taken in 2003.

Minamisoma Haranomachi

Image from March 12, 2011.

Minamisoma Kashima

Image taken in 2006.

Minamisoma Kashima

Image from March 12, 2011.

Minamisoma Kashimaku

Image taken in 2003.

Minamisoma Kashimaku

Image from March 12, 2011.

Oshika Peninsula Iigohama

Image taken in 2007.

Oshika Peninsula Iigohama

Image from March 12, 2011.

Oshika Peninsula Yagawahama

Image taken in 2007.

Oshika Peninsula Yagawahama

Image from March 12, 2011.

Sendai Airport

Image taken in 2003.

Sendai Airport

Image from March 12, 2011.

Sendai Arahama

Image taken in 2008.

Sendai Arahama

Image from March 12, 2011.

Sendai Fujitsuka

Image taken in 2008.

Sendai Fujitsuka

Image from March 12, 2011.

Sendai Terashima

Image taken in 2003.

Sendai Terashima

Image from March 12, 2011.

Sendai Yamoto

Image taken in 2004.

Sendai Yamoto

Image from March 12, 2011.

Sendai Yuriage

Image taken in 2008.

Sendai Yuriage

Image from March 12, 2011.

PHOTOS: Japan: Then and Now