Rise in Lightning Deaths Points to Need for Better Protection Efforts

Lightning Strike

More than 70 people died from lightning strikes on a single day July 12 2021 in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. This is not an isolated case but reflects an overall rising trend in lightning incidents and mortality. On June 7 in West Bengal 27 lightning deaths were reported.

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 neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh. Several others were injured in very painful ways.

In 2020 as many as 110 persons  died following lightning strikes on a single day on June 25 in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, over 80 in  Bihar alone. Others later succumbed to their injuries.

Even earlier mortality due to lightning in India had been high even though this natural disaster did not get the much-needed attention.

Now with the accelerating climate change it appears that the 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, destitute 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 less about lightning as compared to several other disasters, in many years the highest number of disaster related deaths are recorded in the context of lightning in India, although partly this may also be due to  under-reporting of mortality related to some other disasters . Most lightning deaths are often recorded for 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 protection practices that may be practical and relevant in their local context. Scientifically well-established precautions should be better publicized among all sections of people.

Bharat Dogra is Convener , Save the Earth Now Campaign. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Planet In Peril.


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