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Climate change likely reason for growing toll of lightning strikes in Bangladesh

Lightning strikes have killed some 2,800 people in Bangladesh in past decade, number of deaths have risen in past 3 years

SM Najmus Sakib   | 27.10.2021
Climate change likely reason for growing toll of lightning strikes in Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh 

Bangladesh, a delta country surrounded by the Bay of Bengal, has been experiencing more frequent and deadly lightning strikes – apparently due to climate change and its rapidly growing impacts.

The country’s geographical location and population density have made it vulnerable to lightning strikes, and the rising number of casualties led authorities to announce the phenomenon as a natural disaster in 2016.

As of September, Bangladesh, which ranks third among countries prone to lightning strikes, had seen 329 deaths due to lightning strikes, according to government figures.

In 2019, 198 people were killed in lightning strikes and 255 in 2020.

Over the past 10 years, lightning strikes have killed at least 2,800 people in Bangladesh, with a majority of the victims being farmers, official data shows.

Lightning strikes occur when cool and heavy air descending from the Himalayas collides with hot air flowing from the Bay of Bengal to produce thunder clouds, experts told Anadolu Agency.

Kawsar Parvin, the deputy director of the Storm Warning Center at the Bangladesh Meteorological Department, said climate change has pushed up the frequency of lightning strikes in Bangladesh, leading to a rising number of fatalities each year.

“Lightning strikes mostly occur during the pre-monsoon, monsoon, and post-monsoon seasons. But this period is widening due to climate change and changing weather patterns. We are now seeing lightning strikes when they’re not supposed to happen,” Parvin said.

“We could reduce deaths by installing lightning antennas in open areas, and planting taller trees such as palm, date, and coconut that have been declining due to rapid deforestation.”

He suggested that the government should make it mandatory for people to install lightning antennas and earthing systems, and ensure that building codes are properly followed for houses and high-rise buildings.

Farmers bearing brunt

Farmers account for nearly 72% of all lightning deaths in Bangladesh, according to a civil society group focused on the issue.

As low-lying plains and wetlands are most prone to lightning strikes, farmers are highly vulnerable while working there during cultivation season.

“Farmers have to work in wet or submerged paddy fields, where they can be easily electrocuted,” said Kabirul Bashar, the president of the Save the Society and Thunderstorm Awareness Forum (SSTAF).

A total of 177 people were killed in lightning strikes from March 31 to June 7 this year, including 122 farmers who were hit while working in fields, according to data compiled by SSTAF.

Bashar also suggested planting trees along farmlands to neutralize the threat of lightning strikes.

“The government should relax import duties on items such as lightning antennas and advanced warning systems,” he said.

“We should also support research on and production of these devices in Bangladesh. That will give us a chance to offer people sustainable and financially viable solutions.”

Government’s action plan

For its part, the Bangladeshi government is pursuing a multimillion-dollar scheme that it claims would ensure timely alerts that could save lives.

Md. Enamur Rahman, the state minister for disaster management and relief, said last week that authorities have recently started work on a project to install warning systems and set up shelters in vulnerable areas.

The project will cost around $55 million, according to the official.

Sharing details of the project, Parvin, the meteorological department official, said nine lightning warning centers will be established in Bangladesh by this December.

“Once they are operational, we can alert people about 40 minutes to an hour before possible lightning strikes,” he said, adding that a panel of experts from Dhaka University is leading a feasibility study on the project.

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