By Nina Chestney
LONDON (Reuters) - Landslides killed more than 32,000 people across the world from 2004 to 2010 - up to 10 times more than previously thought, the first detailed study of the disasters showed on Thursday.
The new data on the scale of the problem should force governments to rethink how they dealt with the slides which have left a trail of destruction from China to Central and South America, researchers said.
"Landslides are a global hazard requiring a major change in perception and policy," said David Petley, lead researcher on the study at Britain's University of Durham.
"There are things that we can do to manage and mitigate landslide risks such as controlling land use, proactive forest management and guiding development away from vulnerable areas."
Information, collected in a database in Durham and published in the journal Geology on Thursday, showed 32,322 people died in 2,620 landslides across the world from 2004 to 2010.
Previous estimates ranged from 3,000 to 7,000 deaths over the same period, said the researchers.
The sharp difference in the estimates was probably due to the introduction of better data collection methods, they added.
Last month, floods and landslides killed more than 100 people in southern Russia after two month's average rainfall fell in a few hours.
In June, about 30 people died and more than 100 went missing after a landslide in eastern Uganda.
Landslides are mass movements of rock, debris and soil, often caused by earthquakes, heavy rainfall and human activity such as timber harvesting or mining.
The Durham Fatal Landslide Database identified hotspots - among them the south-west coast of India, Sri Lanka, the southern and eastern coasts of China, the central Caribbean islands, Indonesia and mountains from Mexico to Chile.
The most fatal landslides were recorded in May to October and the most common trigger was monsoon rains, the study showed.
The Durham researchers said there was a good chance they had actually underestimated the number of landslide deaths because they had had to leave out a number of fatalities recorded following earthquakes.
It was often unclear whether people had been killed by a landslide or other after effects of a quake, they added.
Scientists have said landslides could become more common, because of rising populations, more intense rainfall and the clearing of forests.
Climate change increased the odds for the kind of extreme weather sometimes linked to landslides and other disasters, a report said last month.
(Editing by Andrew Heavens)