IT'S only a matter of time before a huge earthquake strikes a major city and results in a death toll "unprecedented in human history".Well-known Scottish scientist Iain Stewart delivered that grim prediction yesterday in Brisbane during an address to a global geology conference.Professor Stewart, a geologist and academic who has gained fame for multiple BBC television series on the planet, said the risk of disaster has grown because a growing number of mega-cities are built on or near major earthquake faults.
Large settlements since antiquity have been based on these fault lines because they also help provide water and are usually located near flat plains ideally suited for growing crops.
This "fatal attraction" to dangerous areas was "actually a good thing", because historically the trade-off was worth it since earthquakes were rare and most cities were not that large, he said.
While earthquakes today were often less destructive because of improved building codes, more people were affected because cities were larger, Prof Stewart told delegates at the 34th International Geological Congress.
Although it might seem that the number of natural disasters around the world is increasing, there are simply more people living in harm's way, and that fact creates the illusion. "We create the template that brings these disasters," Prof Stewart said.
Similarly, people want to live only 20m from the beach, even in regions liable to be struck by tsunamis. Even after properties have been destroyed, many owners vow to rebuild.
Further research was needed to understand why people continued to have such a high threshold for living in danger zones and why they often chose to ignore the science that could save their lives, he said.
heraldsun.com.au 9 Aug 2012
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