Bangladesh is witnessing increasing numbers of casualties from lightning, a natural disaster, for the last few days, mainly because of the rise in temperature that is leading to formation of upper air circulation in the geographical region, experts say.
The thundercloud formation because of excess heat over Bangladesh is resulting in thunderbolts and lightning, particularly in the regions where water bodies are high, such as haor areas. Casualties are increasing because of lack of awareness among people.
“There are arguments over whether global warming is responsible for increased lightning or not, but we can surely say the rise of temperature is leading to the situation. The overall temperature was on average over 30 degrees Celsius for the last few days of April in Bangladesh, when most of the lightning casualties happened,” said Prof Dr Towhida Rashid, chairperson of the Meteorology Department at Dhaka University (DU).
The geographical location of the country with the Himalayas in the north, the Bay of Bengal in the south, as well as the Indian Ocean and Arabian Ocean in surrounding areas, is adding to the creation of thunderstorms in the country, she said.
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“The temperature rose in April in Bangladesh, which has caused water vaporize and lead to rain, clouds, and lightning,” Prof Rashid said.
According to a study titled ‘Risk Factors and Social Vulnerability’, conducted by USA’s Kent State University’s geography Prof Thomas W Schmidlin, the maximum occurrence of lightning over the entire Indian subcontinent occurs in central Bangladesh during the pre-monsoon season (March-May) with 40 lightning strikes per square kilometre.
The study said newspaper reports put the number of annual deaths from lightning at over 150, but the actual death toll may be 500-1,000.
According to statistics compiled by Foundation for Disaster Forum, the death toll from lightning was 179 in 2011, 301 in 2012, 285 in 2013, 210 in 2014, 186 in 2015, 245 in 2016, and 205 in 2017.
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So far this year, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief says at least 70 people have reportedly died from lightning in the last two months. Among them, 12 were killed in March. In April, 58 people were killed, including 29 on the last two days of the month alone.
“Lightning happens mostly when clouds clash with each other and air pollution is also a factor. Lightning is high in the month of Boishakh, when there is higher dust and carbon in the air and casualties are mostly in areas where people work in open fields mostly, particularly in haor region,” said Gawher Nayeem Wahra, director of Brac’s Disaster Management and Climate Change program.
He also stressed the installation of lightning prevention system, a mandatory provision under Bangladesh National Building Code, to make people safe in urban areas. For rural areas, where vulnerability is high, he suggested awareness creation on an extensive level, in addition to planting of trees to avoid casualties.
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Disaster Management and Relief Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya said the government has undertaken a project to plant one million palm trees across Bangladesh, especially in haor areas in Sunamganj, Netrakona, Sylhet and Brahmanbaria, as a preventive measure.
“We have already planted over 3.1 million palm trees across Bangladesh. In addition to it, families of the victims are given compensation packages if they die from lightning,” he added.
However, Gawher said that these trees will take five to seven years to grow to their full height, so the government should consider planting date palm trees as they grow faster than other palm trees.
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He also urged the government to allocate money in the budget for the next fiscal year for lightning prevention activities in the highly affected areas.
DU Prof Towhida Rashid has stressed for awareness creation on a mass level, and including lighting awareness in textbooks, to reduce casualties from the disaster as a long term initiative.
As thunderstorms are most common during the period from March to July, and are usually the most powerful in the afternoon, experts advised people – particularly those who work in open spaces – to be aware of this and to stay indoors for a couple of hours after a storm.