Human activity influences both the occurrence and impact of landslides in mountainous environments. Population pressure and the associated land-use changes are assumed to exacerbate landslide risk, yet there is a lack of statistical evidence to support this claim, especially in the Global South where historical records are scarce. In this work, we explore the interactions between population, deforestation and landslide risk in the Kivu Rift in Africa. To do so, we develop a holistic landslide risk model that evaluates 58 years of population and forest-cover trends. We show that the current landslide risk in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is twice as high as in neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi. Congolese households, on average, populate more hazardous terrain, probably as a result of conflicts and economic pull factors such as mining. Moreover, the recent large-scale deforestation of primary rainforest in the DRC has considerably exacerbated the landslide risk. Our analysis demonstrates how the legacy of deforestation, conflicts and population dynamics is reflected in the landslide risk in the Kivu Rift.
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This study was supported by the Belgium Science Policy Office (BELSPO) through the PAStECA project (BR/165/A3/PASTECA) entitled ‘Historical Aerial Photographs and Archives to Assess Environmental Changes in Central Africa’ (http://pasteca.africamuseum.be/). We further wish to thank F. Canters, F. Makanzu Imwangana, A. M. C. Umutoni, G. Sakindi, J. van Vliet and T. De Putter for their insightful discussions and recommendations regarding this research.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Sustainability thanks Fritz Kleinschroth, Faith E. Taylor and Anthony Vodacek for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Depicker, A., Jacobs, L., Mboga, N. et al. Historical dynamics of landslide risk from population and forest-cover changes in the Kivu Rift. Nat Sustain 4, 965–974 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00757-9
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