Increasing lightning strikes and deaths call for early alert systems and better protection

Farmers, workers and the homeless are more vulnerable to lightning strikes which are increasing in frequency. But it is only when tourists are killed that lightning deaths get highlighted

Increasing lightning strikes and deaths call for early alert systems and better protection

Bharat Dogra

More than 70 people died from lightning strikes on July 12, 2021 in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. This is not an isolated case but reflects a rising trend in deaths caused by lightning. Barely five days ago on June 7 as many as 27 lightning deaths were reported from West Bengal.

Last year (2020) between June 25 and July 4 , as many as 120 persons died in Bihar due to lightning strikes. In addition there were several other deaths due to the same cause during the same period in neighbouring state of Uttar Pradesh. Several others were injured in very painful ways.

It would appear that risks from lightning strikes are increasing like never before. It has been pointed out generally that the risks from natural disasters are likely to increase as climate change conditions accentuate and more specifically attention has also been drawn to the likelihood of more and worse lightning strikes under the impact of climate change.

This risk is much higher in the case of India where a large number of people including farmers ( who may even be standing in water) , cattle-grazers, forest-produce gatherers, pastoral and other nomads, destitutes and homeless people are likely to be away from shelter and caught in rainstorm and lightning conditions.

A system based on lightning detecting sensor machines and related apps is available to give warnings. This system needs to be improved and extended. This as well as all other options should be explored to prevent lightning related mortality.

This aspect of natural disasters deserves much more attention. Even improvement of sanitation can result in lower risk of people getting caught in morning rainstorms and lightning in open places.

Lightning is known to be a disaster whose costs in terms of mortality can be very high and although we hear relatively little about lightning as compared to several other disasters. While under reporting is quite possible, most lightning deaths are often recorded in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand.

With scientists predicting rise in lightning events in times of climate change, better warning systems for vulnerable groups as well as more and improved protection devices are needed. In addition the traditional wisdom of people like cattle grazers, farmers and nomads can also be tapped to find about more about practices that may be practical and relevant in their local context. Scientifically well-established precautions should be better publicized among all sections of people.

(The writer is Convener , Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Planet In Peril. Views are personal)

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