March 10th, 2010
07:24 PM ET

Are earthquake-related deaths increasing?

University of Colorado geologist Roger Bilham, who recently returned from Haiti, told The Associated Press that earthquakes have caused "four times as many deaths in the last 10 years than in the previous 10 years."

Given the high death toll of the Haitian earthquake, and the substantial death toll of the Chilean earthquake, did Bilham get his numbers right?

Fact Check: Has the death toll from earthquakes gone up fourfold? 

- According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there were an estimated 114,646 earthquake-related deaths between 1990 and 1999. Between 2000 and March 10 of this year, there were an estimated 688,534 earthquake-related deaths. This includes the more than 200,000 deaths from Haiti's earthquake and the 700 deaths from Chile's earthquake.

- Mathematically, 668,534 is nearly 6 times higher than 114,646.

- However, when you compare 1990-1999 with 2000-2009, the number is different. The number of estimated deaths from earthquakes between 2000 and 2009 equals 465,373 - about four times as high as the previous decade.

- According to the USGS, the death toll from 2010 earthquakes is already almost a high as the highest yearly death toll for the 2000-2009 period and is on track to give this year the most earthquake-related deaths in more than 20 years.

Bottom Line: 

Bilham was correct. Four times as many people have died from earthquakes in the past 10 years as compared to the previous decade. However, when taking into account the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes, 2010 is set to break death toll records and increase that number even further.

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Filed under: Earthquake • Fact Check • Haiti
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. dws

    Now let me say the Chilie quake made the earth ring like a bell...threw it off it,s axis and shortened the day yet any other quakes are not related!!!! Just can"t get my head around that bit of logic!

    March 11, 2010 at 10:24 am | Report abuse |
  2. Lara

    Okay, that's interesting, but can we also put that into the context of how many earthquakes occurred in those time periods, and their severity? Are more people dying because the earthquakes are more severe, or because they're hitting areas that have higher populations but lower housing standards, or is there something else in play? It's a bit like talking about how many people died in 1917 without mentioning that there was a major war on. These statistics are interesting but you're not providing enough context.

    March 14, 2010 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ebony

    If you counted deaths resulting from Tsunamis, triggered by earthquakes, we all know this new number would more than double given the great tragedy of 2004. It's the same as not counting suicides of returning Iraq vets to the toll of war casualties.

    March 15, 2010 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
  4. dws

    My comment was a little off point. Fully agree deaths are for the most part result of mismanagement. Government lack the will or ability to limit building in bad area Katrina an example...rebuild below sea level...

    March 16, 2010 at 12:02 am | Report abuse |