Natural hazard fatalities in Switzerland from 1946 to 2015
- 1Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Zürcherstrasse 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
- 2WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, Flüelastrasse 11, 7260 Davos, Switzerland
Abstract. A database of fatalities caused by natural hazard processes in Switzerland was compiled for the period between 1946 and 2015. Using information from the Swiss flood and landslide damage database and the Swiss destructive avalanche database, the data set was extended back in time and more hazard processes were added by conducting an in-depth search of newspaper reports. The new database now covers all natural hazards common in Switzerland, categorised into seven process types: flood, landslide, rockfall, lightning, windstorm, avalanche and other processes (e.g. ice avalanches, earthquakes). Included were all fatal accidents associated with natural hazard processes in which victims did not expose themselves to an important danger on purpose. The database contains information on 635 natural hazard events causing 1023 fatalities, which corresponds to a mean of 14.6 victims per year. The most common causes of death were snow avalanches (37 %), followed by lightning (16 %), floods (12 %), windstorms (10 %), rockfall (8 %), landslides (7 %) and other processes (9 %). About 50 % of all victims died in one of the 507 single-fatality events; the other half were killed in the 128 multi-fatality events.
The number of natural hazard fatalities that occurred annually during our 70-year study period ranged from 2 to 112 and exhibited a distinct decrease over time. While the number of victims in the first three decades (until 1975) ranged from 191 to 269 per decade, it ranged from 47 to 109 in the four following decades. This overall decrease was mainly driven by a considerable decline in the number of avalanche and lightning fatalities. About 75 % of victims were males in all natural hazard events considered together, and this ratio was roughly maintained in all individual process categories except landslides (lower) and other processes (higher). The ratio of male to female victims was most likely to be balanced when deaths occurred at home (in or near a building), a situation that mainly occurred in association with landslides and avalanches. The average age of victims of natural hazards was 35.9 years and, accordingly, the age groups with the largest number of victims were the 20–29 and 30–39 year-old groups, which in combination represented 34 % of all fatalities. It appears that the overall natural hazard mortality rate in Switzerland over the past 70 years has been relatively low in comparison to rates in other countries or rates of other types of fatal accidents in Switzerland. However, a large variability in mortality rates was observed within the country with considerably higher rates in Alpine environments.