Lightning kills more people than flood and landslide, but country lacks preparedness

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The government has set up nine detection centers across the country, but experts say there should be more focus on precaution measures


Lightning continues to be one of the deadliest disasters in the country, with thunder strikes claiming dozens of lives every year.

According to the Nepal Emergency Operation Centre, lightning killed 67 people and injured 397 between April 14, 2018 and April 9, 2019.

Property worth Rs 12 million was destroyed and 207 livestock perished in lightning-related disasters in that period.

Despite continuous loss of lives and property in lightning incidents, the agencies concerned are struggling to reduce the number of deaths and property loss.

“Over 100 people die every year due to lightning strikes. Still, lightning incidents do not get the required attention because they do not kill a large number of people at one time,” said Bed Nidhi Khanal, the centre’s chief.

Khanal said lightning strikes are a major disaster in terms of fatalities they cause every year.

The Chure and Mahabharat Hill ranges are highly vulnerable to lightning incidents, which mostly occur during pre-monsoon period. The available figures on lighting incidents and fatalities show districts like Makwanpur, Rukum (West), Dang, Udayapur and Ilam as highly prone areas to lightning incidents.

In the last 10 days alone, at least 17 incidents of thunderbolts have been reported in the country.

The seven years data between 2011/12 and 2018/19 has recorded 773 deaths and 1,695 injuries due to thunder strikes, making it the second deadliest catastrophe in the country only after the 2015 earthquake that had killed nearly 9,000 people.

In that period, other disasters like landslides and flood, which often get more attention from the government for preparedness and response, claimed 730 and 665 lives respectively.

Following the massive annual damage, the government in 2017 had set up nine lightning detection centres in Tumlingtar, Biratnagar, Simara, Bhairhawa, Kathmandu, Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Surkhet and Dhangadi. Operation of these stations, which would cover the entire country and gather data of incidents of lightning from all parts of the country, was also expected to contribute in mini-mising loss of lives in lightning incidents after identifying thunderstorm-prone zones. But lightning has continued to kill people nationwide.

“These stations cannot do anything more than few minutes of ‘now-casting’. We instead need to focus on precaution measures like staying inside when there is a thunderstorm, not to take shield under the tower or tall trees at such times to protect them from lighting strikes,” added Khanal.

According to Khanal, the government has started awareness campaigns in districts which have been frequently hit by lightning in the past years.

Also, the government is planning to introduce provision in the building codes to have installed earthing systems or lightning protection systems at least in the public buildings like hospitals, schools, waiting lounges or places where large number of people gather.

“Our settlements are scattered which makes it difficult for installing a big lighting arrester tower which would connect all the houses nearby with wires. Individual houses cannot install such arresters on their own,” Khanal told the Post.

“Nepali scientists have claimed arresters can be designed in the country at a cheaper price. Till then, adopting precaution measures is the only options to stay safe.”