The 7. 8-magnitude earthquake that struck Turkiye and Syria on February 6 has claimed more than 20,000 lives so far, making it the second deadliest quake to hit the region. The last time Turkiye witnessed a quake of this magnitude was at Erzincan in 1939.
In recent memory, severe quakes in Bhuj (2001), Kashmir (2005) and Nepal (2015) have also left massive trails of devastation but – going by cold statistics alone – none of them counts among this century’s worst.
By far the severest quake since the start of the 20th century occurred in Chile in 1960. It had a magnitude of 9. 5 – which means it was 50 times* stronger than the 7. 8 magnitude quake in Turkiye and 63 times stronger than the 7. 7-magnitude Bhuj quake. In the 21st century, several high-intensity earthquakes have been recorded. The Indian Ocean earthquake – which struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in 2004 wi th a magnitude of 9. 1 (20 times stronger than the Turkiye quake) – killed nearly 2. 3 lakh people across 14 countries after triggering tsunami waves up to 50 metres high. It was the third most intense earthquake in recorded history and the deadliest natural disaster of the 21st century.


Data shows quakes have become more frequent over the past century, but this is likely due to the improvements in earthquake detection technology and increase in the number of sensors. While high-intensity earthquakes have been less frequent this century, casualties and destruction from quakes have risen dramatically due to the growing population and construction densities.


For instance, the Haiti earthquake of 2010 led to nearly 2. 3 lakh deaths with a considerably lower recorded magnitude of 7 (one-sixth the strength of the Turkiye quake). The island nation, with a population of just over 1 crore, was illprepared to handle a severe earthquake and many lives were lost during the rescue operations, which lacked adequate resources. Beyond the immediate devastation, earthquakes can also have longer-term impacts.
The 2011 magnitude-9. 1 earthquake in Japan originated in the Pacific Ocean, leading to a tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. There were meltdowns in three reactors and radioactive water was discharged into the ocean. Its overall economic cost was $235 b illion, and a World Bank study at the time said it was the costliest disaster in history. A 2020 report found it shrank the Japanese GDP by nearly 0. 5 percentage points.
*Per the USGS quake intensity calculator.



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