It appears to be a new kind of menace for Bangladesh that lightning strikes are increasing in frequency and costing more lives every year. Thunderbolts in the sky is nothing new, but growing concern over the number of lightning bolts has prompted the government to add it to the list of natural disasters in 2016.
That was also the year when the number of people killed by lightning was the highest so far. The non-government estimate has the number of casualty at 400, while the government estimate is 217 in 2016. But more important than these numbers is what it tells us about the changing climate in the country that might have far-reaching consequences if not addressed immediately.
One can always argue that many times more people get killed every year in road accidents. In that sense, does lightning strike deserve to be the subject of our cover story? First of all, it is more the symptom than the disease, because the cause behind the cause is global warming. Unless we recognize the manifestation of the problem as a problem unto itself, we may not recognize the more critical problem lurking behind it.
Secondly, a great deal of awareness has to be created amongst the people. Most victims of lightning strikes are in the rural areas, and it has been learned that simple precautions can save lives. For example, farmers should sit down or lie down in open fields instead of standing because lightning strikes the top-most point in an area. Another solution is to take shelter in concrete buildings. It also helps if people get out of ponds, lakes, and rivers during storms.
One of the reasons being ascribed to increasing number of lightning strikes is absence of tall trees such as palm and coconut. These trees attracted the bolts in the past thus keeping the number of human casualties at a minimum. That reality has changed due to indiscriminate felling of trees and the falling number of tall trees being planted.
The experts tell us that it will take at least five to six years to tackle the threat of lightning even if we start planting trees today. It will take those trees that long to grow to their full heights before being ready to attract lightning. They also complain that the government is too slow in terms of waking up to the danger and then taking the right steps to combat it. In other words, it knows what the problem is and it also knows what the solution is, but may not be speedy enough to do away with it any time soon.
What is important here is the growing hostility between the human inhabitants and the weather in this country like it exists in other countries of the world. But the severity appears to be higher in Bangladesh compared to other countries. For example, Nepal has roughly 100 people killed by lightning every year. South Africa has about 260 people killed every year. The number in the USA was 40 in 2016. If the unofficial estimate of 400 deaths in Bangladesh in 2016 is true, then we have reasons to be alarmed. It is time we took our weather as serious business.
According to scientists, nearly 1,800 thunderstorms are happening at any moment around the world, which is 16 million in a year. That means we are going to have to live with thunderstorms as a fact of life. That also means we are going to have to prepare ourselves to adjust to the Nature instead of expecting it to be the other way around. We are going to be safe if we start that preparation right now.