Population growth and increasing urbanization in earthquake-prone areas suggest that earthquake impacts on human populations will increase in the coming decades. Recent large earthquakes affecting large populations in Japan, Haiti, Chile and New Zealand are evidence of this trend and also illustrate significant variations in outcomes such damage and mortality levels. The objectives of this review were to describe the impact of earthquakes on human populations in terms of mortality, injury and displacement and, to the extent possible, identify risk factors associated with these outcomes. This is one of five reviews on the human impact of natural disasters.
Data on the impact of earthquakes were compiled using two methods, a historical review from 1980 to mid 2009 of earthquake events from multiple databases and a systematic literature review of publications, ending in October 2012. Analysis included descriptive statistics and bivariate tests for associations between earthquake mortality and characteristics using STATA 11.
From 1980 through 2009, there were a total of 372,634 deaths (range 314,634-412,599), 995,219 injuries (range: 845,345-1,145,093), and more than 61 million people affected by earthquakes, and mortality was greatest in Asia. Inconsistent reporting across data sources suggests that the numbers injured and affected are likely underestimates. Findings from a systematic review of the literature indicate that the primary cause of earthquake-related death was trauma due to building collapse and, the very young and the elderly were at increased mortality risk, while gender was not consistently associated with mortality risk.
Strategies to mitigate the impact of future earthquakes should include improvements to the built environment and a focus on populations most vulnerable to mortality and injury.