Updated: July 3, 2021 3:26:44 am
India recorded 34 per cent more lightning strikes from April 2020 to March 2021 than it did in the same period in 2019-2020. Even though there are satellite, radar and lightning networks used to forecast and issue alerts, fatality due to lightning strikes remains the highest in India. In its second year, the Lightning Resilient Campaign India convener Sanjay Kumar Srivastava says that the fatality has been brought down to 1,697. Excerpts from an interview with Anjali Marar:
What are the key highlights of the annual report ?
India recorded 1.85 crore lightning strikes from April 2020 to March 2021. For the same period in 2019-2020, the total lightning events were 1.38 crore with 60 per cent more deaths. An increase in lightning events was recorded from Punjab (331 per cent), Bihar (168 per cent), Haryana (164 per cent), Puducherry (117 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (105 per cent) and West Bengal (100 per cent). Whereas, a declining trend was observed over Goa, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Karnataka, Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Meghalaya and Tripura for the same period.
Odisha topped the lightning events at 20.43 lakh strikes last year, but its death toll was 156 and the state ranked fourth in fatalities, behind Bihar (401), Uttar Pradesh (238) and Madhya Pradesh (228). The casualties were highest among adult men, farmers working in the fields and the most common manner of death was lightning striking victims taking shelter underneath. The lightning strikes — based on mapping for the tribal area —found high fatalities among tribals, as they lived in tinned houses and their livelihoods were land-dependent.
Can you tell us some of the key intervention measures implemented towards tackling lightning ?
Lightning is a localised event but its hazard and impact is instantaneous, hence collaborative efforts are required. Multiple approaches from creating awareness to policy interventions are needed. Firstly, education and awareness creation among people about lightning hazards was initiated. Two, providing early warning forecasts — from medium range (upto five days), short range(upto two days), nowcast(upto six hours) and alerts from Damini mobile app of the India Meteorological Department was used.
Thirdly, campaigns focusing on the Dos and Don’ts during an event of lightning were done. We initiated a Village Risk Management Programme under which hill-tops, ponds, etc. were classified as risk-prone areas. Later, people were sensitized on making these places safer by installing lightning arresters, conductors and advised them to take shelter inside permanent structures. Lastly, lightning protection devices were recommended on government establishments and schools. It was taken up by Odisha, Jharkhand and in the northeast.
At policy-level, special bye-laws disallowing construction of any building over two or more storeys without a lightning protection device was introduced in Odisha and Jharkhand. Special chapters on lightning were introduced in the school curriculum of Odisha, Gujarat, Nagaland.
In addition, we are engaging with ministries of fisheries, animal husbandry, forest and other stakeholders along with strengthening research at local levels.
How are Indian states performing ?
There are about twelve states including Odisha, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala which have recognised lightning strikes as a state disaster. But, not all states have succeeded in bringing down the casualty due to lightning, as yet. States like Odisha, Jharkhand, Nagaland and Gujarat fare better.
Odisha is the best performing state and has adopted the ‘zero death’ approach.
This state has its own network for early warning and public notification systems, has educated and sensitized people on lightning-related deaths, relay Dos and Don’ts through NGOs and community schools. The cyclone shelter buildings and schools are installed with lightning arresters.
Similar proactive measures were taken by governments of Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland, Gujarat and Jharkhand. In this comparison, lightning-related risk mitigation measures have not been actively initiated by governments of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Some of these states do not have disaster management teams or experts working beneath district levels.
Does climate change have any role ?
An overheated land surface and the availability of moisture favour local convective activities, triggering lightning. Due to global warming, there is certainly a rising trend in temperatures. So, an increase in the events of lightning could be either associated with an increase in heated surface areas, increase in moisture-levels or both.
Areas with these conditions are witnessing a rise in lightning strikes. Contrarily, there are also areas where the lightning events have decreased in a certain year, but it was found that the following year, lightning of greater intensity struck the same locality, as was noted in Jharkhand during 2014 and 2015. The decrease in the events could also be associated with weak monsoon over a region and climate change.
Though we have started mapping and counting lightning strikes over India from April 2019, there is an increase in events noted during 2019 – 2020 versus 2020 – 2021.
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