100,000 lightning deaths in 52 years from 1967 to 2019 in India amid a surge in strikes

(ORDO NEWS) — Last March, four gardeners working at a condominium in Gurgaon, a suburb near India‘s capital Delhi, took shelter under a tree during a rainstorm.

A few minutes later, an orange flash swept through the trunk of the tree, followed by a clap of thunder. Lightning usually lasts less than a second. A typical lightning flash has about 300 million volts and 30,000 amps – enough to kill. It can cause the air around it to heat up to five times the temperature on the surface of the Sun.

Four men fell to the ground. One of them died, the rest survived with burns.

“I don’t remember what and how happened to me. In a matter of seconds, everything was destroyed,” one of the survivors told the newspaper.

His colleague was one of more than 2,500 Indians who are killed every year by lightning strikes.

More than 100,000 people died from lightning strikes in the country between 1967 and 2019, according to official figures. This is more than a third of deaths caused by natural hazards during this period. Survivors may have to live with symptoms such as weakness, dizziness and memory loss.

The Meteorological Office of India began forecasting lightning three years ago. Flashes are now tracked using mobile apps. People are alerted by radio, television and with the help of volunteers with a megaphone. A three-year initiative called the Lightning India Resilient Campaign is working hard to raise awareness in lightning prone villages and reduce mortality.

However, the number of strikes also increased dramatically. Over 18 million lightning strikes were recorded in India between April 2020 and March 2021, according to a study by the Delhi Center for Science and Environment and the climate journal Down to Earth.

This is 34% more than in the same period of the previous year. Satellite data compiled by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology also show that between 1995 and 2014, the number of strikes “increased soaringly”.

While half a dozen states accounted for most of the strikes, three states – Odisha, Jharkhand and West Bengal – accounted for 70% of the deaths. The most vulnerable are men who work on farms.

“There are a lot of lightning strikes in our area. I still remember how a seven-year-old boy was killed when he went out during a thunderstorm to fetch their buffalo. Now we just try to stay at home,” says Sandhyarani Giri, a schoolteacher from West Bengal .

Ms Geary lives in the densely populated fishing village of Fraserganj, bordering the Bay of Bengal, about 120 km (74 miles) south of the state capital, Calcutta. This is a kind of hot spot – in the South 24-Parganas district, where her village is located, about 60 people die from lightning every year.

Coastal villages are a landscape of land and water: farms, ponds, houses with tin roofs and thatched roofs. Life near the sea can be dangerous: cyclonic storms and tidal waves are common. Lightning strikes most often over land, but waters near the coast are most often affected.

Lightning strikes are essentially a surge of electricity caused mostly by an imbalance in thunderclouds. So villagers have helped raise awareness and reduce lightning deaths by making cheap, homemade lightning rods to channel electrical charge into the ground.

Villagers use used bicycle rims, bamboo and metal wire to make these conductors. The rim is attached to the top of a bamboo pole – sometimes up to 30 feet high – which is tied to buildings, mainly community centers and local schools. The conductor ensures the transmission of the generated electricity to the ground without causing any harm to it.

The vast majority of lightning victims in India live in villages and die hiding under tall trees, according to research conducted by the Lightning Resilient India campaign. Particularly vulnerable are members of tribes who make a living by farming, fishing and crafting. The campaign has reduced lightning deaths by 60% in some states.

“But governments lack security awareness campaigns to reach the really vulnerable people in hotspots like farms, jungles, sea, coasts, ponds, lakes and rivers,” said Colonel Sanjay Srivastava, campaign organizer.

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