Lightning is the biggest natural disaster-linked killer in India: data

Experts have warned of rise in lightning incidents partly due to cascading effects of global warming

Published - July 12, 2021 08:51 pm IST - NEW DELHI

In a flash: State Disaster Response Force personnel searching for bodies in the Amber Fort in Jaipur where 11 people were killed after being struck by lightning on Sunday.

In a flash: State Disaster Response Force personnel searching for bodies in the Amber Fort in Jaipur where 11 people were killed after being struck by lightning on Sunday.

With the monsoon making a slow revival over several parts of India, except the northwest region, there is a rise in lightning-linked deaths.

Nearly 68 were reportedly struck dead by lightning on a single day in Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, according to reports from States on Sunday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an ex gratia of ₹2 lakh each for the next of kin of those killed due to the lightning strikes in all the three States and ₹50,000 for the injured.

Over the years, the Home Ministry’s statistics consistently cited lightning as the biggest natural disaster-linked killer in India.

In 2019, an analysis by private weather company Skymet reported that five States accounted for half the lightning strikes in that year, led by Odisha with 9,37,462 strikes or about 16% of the cloud-to-ground strikes. There were 20 million lightning strikes in that period with over 72% of them being instances of “in-cloud” lightning.

The most recent statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, from 2019, said that year, there were 8,145 deaths in the country attributable to forces of nature. Of these, 35.3% deaths were reported due to ‘lightning’, 15.6% deaths due to ‘heat/sun stroke’ and 11.6% deaths due to ‘flood’. Most of those who died due to accidents caused by forces of nature were reported to be belonging to the age-group of 30-45 (25.3%) and 45-60 (24.9%) together.

Under ‘lightning’, Bihar (400), Madhya Pradesh (400), Jharkhand (334) and Uttar Pradesh (321) reported the maximum number of victims.

Experts have warned of a rise in lightning disaster partly due to the cascading effects of global warming. At a seminar last month, S.D. Pawar, scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, stated that annual lightning deaths had risen nearly two and a half times from the late 1960s to 2019 and were directly linked to the climate crisis, that increased moisture over land due to warming.

Open fields

Several weather agencies now issue lightning-related warnings and there are apps that generate customised forecasts. However a large proportion of deaths are in rural areas with open fields and people, in a bid to take shelter from the rain, choose to stay under trees that are frequently struck by lightning.

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