All the way through history, lightning has always captivated mankind. Lightning is usually shaped by cumulonimbus clouds, which have bases that are typically 1-2 km above the ground and tops up to 15 km in height. Lightning is a giant spark of electricity in the atmosphere or between the atmosphere and the ground. Lightning is one of the most significant displays in nature. It is also one of the most fatal natural phenomena across the world.
Over 150 people are killed annually in Bangladeshi lightning. In 2016, the frequency of lightning has increased. At least 60 people have been killed and many others injured in lightning strikes alone on last Thursday and Friday.
Lightning is one of the most undervalued severe weather hazards, yet ranks as one of the top weather killers in the USA. It strikes in America kill about 50 people and injure hundreds of others each year. In the United States 30 per cent of electric failures are due to lightning and it also causes property damage resulting billions of dollars of insurance claims.
WHAT COULD BE DONE: Most lightning victims are in open areas or near a tree. Outside is not safe enough when thunderstorms are in the area. It is suggested to run to a safe building or vehicle when you first hear thunder, see lightning or observe dark threatening clouds developing overhead. Stay inside until 30 minutes after you hear the last sound of thunder. There is little one can do to substantially reduce risk if she/he is outside in a thunderstorm. The only safe action is to get inside a safe building or vehicle. If you are in a group, spread out to avoid the current travelling between group members. Stay away from tall, isolated trees or other tall objects. Stay away from water, wet items, such as ropes, and metal objects, such as fences and poles. Water and metal do not attract lightning but they are excellent conductors of electricity.
Whether inside or outside, anyone in contact with anything connected to metal wires, plumbing, or metal surfaces that extend outside is at risk. This includes anything that plugs into an electrical outlet, water faucets and showers, corded phones, and windows and doors.
A house is a safe place to be during a thunderstorm as long as one could avoid anything that conducts electricity. This means staying off corded phones, electrical appliances, wires, cables, computers, plumbing, metal doors and windows. Windows are hazardous for two reasons: wind generated during a thunderstorm can blow objects into the window, breaking it and causing glass to shatter and second, in older homes, in rare instances, lightning can come in cracks in the sides of windows.
While inside, also better to:
n Do not wash your hands, take a shower or wash dishes.
n Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
n Do not lie on concrete floors or lean against concrete walls.
There is no 'specific' treatment for lightning injuries.
REDUCING RISK OF LIGHTNING: Bangladesh is prone to lightning hazards. There is need for the government to intercede in managing the risk of lightning strategically, administratively, technologically and economically. It is expected that responsible authorities will act appropriately for reducing the disaster risks in line with the Disaster Management Vision of the Government of Bangladesh. The vision is to reduce the risk of people, especially the poor and the disadvantaged, from the effects of natural, environmental and human induced hazards, to a manageable and acceptable humanitarian level, and to have in place an efficient emergency response system capable of handling large-scale disasters.
Steps to preclude death caused by lightning should be a priority for the relevant authorities. A comprehensive study should be undertaken to analyse effects of lightning in Bangladesh considering the fatalities, damages and the susceptibilities involved. Relation between climate change and the intensified frequency of lightning could also be explored during this kind of a study.
Forecasting lightning is very complicated. However, Bangladesh meteorological department could take steps to establish lightning detection network to locate different types (inter-cloud, intra-cloud and cloud-to-ground) of lightning. Lightning detection is also important for real-time storm tracking, warning, and short-term forecasting of weather situations as well as rain. Support from developed nations for this matter and related issues could be taken within the international Disaster Risk Reduction framework.
Developing effective mass awareness materials and proper dissemination of knowledge, information and good practices on lightning protection and safety measures is expected from relevant authorities and organisations to minimise the death toll and other exposures to the people and livestock and also to minimise the lightning damages to assets, industries, business and services such as power, transport and communication.
The Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE) and relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in collaboration with Union Disaster Management Committee (UDMC) should work with farmers, who are most vulnerable to lightning, for improving their awareness level and reducing the relevant risks.
The writer is Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation Expert, a Development Lawyer and an associate of NDR, Switzerland.
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