Bangladesh authorities last year declared lightning a natural di saster as official tallies recorded more than 200 deaths in 2016, with 82 people dying on a single day in May. Experts say the real numbe r was actually much higher, with one independent monitor saying 3 49 people were killed by lightning strikes in 2016. Many people li ving in rural areas do not report deaths to the police. Disaster officia ls have spent several months looking at ways to reduce the toll and the tree planting program is likely to be the first of several measures b rought in by the government. “We have already started planting palm trees in rural areas in an effort to reduce the number of deaths due to lightning,” said S hah Kamal, secretary of Relief and Disaster Management Ministry. “W e shall plant one million palm trees by June this year.” Experts say the high death toll stems in part from a lack of tr ees whose branches can absorb the impact of lightning. While the tr ees are damaged, it means the electric charge does not course throu gh the earth.
Kamal said a similar program in Thailand had already yielded results, adding that a team of Bangladeshi officials had also tr avelled to Vietnam to study how authorities there are protecting farmers a long the Mekong Delta. A top meteorologist, who has conducted some research on light - ning, said the tree planting should ultimately help reduce the number of deaths, but the benefits would only be felt after some time. “Pa lm trees take years to grow. But definitely, this is a good move by the g overnment. It will reduce deaths,” Shah Alam, a former head of Bangl adesh Meteorological Department, said. Alam said the number of lightning strikes has increased in Bangladesh amid increased deforestation in rural areas where fa rmers often chop down trees to reclaim land so they can grow more ric e and other crops.