Satellite image of mudslide area in Freetown, Sierra Leone, from DigitalGlobe.
Last week, there was a mudslide in Sierra Leone. Subject to heavy rains, large masses of soil came down the hill and into town, crushing houses, suffocating lives… 500 by last count, but they are still counting.
In the tragic history of landslides, of which mudslides are one type, the Sierra Leone disaster is only the latest chapter. Measured by human deaths, the worst was in China in 1920. The Haiyuan landslides, caused by an earthquake of the same name, had an estimated death toll of 100,000. Whole villages were swallowed.
National Geographic, which every month depresses with tales of us destroying our earth, seized upon deforestation as a likely cause. Indeed, the explanation has merit. Tree roots act to keep the soil together. An area of Mount Sugarloaf, up hill from Freetown (Sierra Leon’s capital, population 1.1 million) had been denuded of trees. Also a possible cause: climate…