A lightning strike killed at least 16 people and injured many more in Jaipur in Rajasthan in Northern India last week. Lightning hit them when they were taking selfies in the rain on top of a watch tower at the city’s 12th Century Amer Fort. Lightning strikes have taken a major toll in the country in the last ten years.
A latest report revealed that at least 1,697 people died due to lightning between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 in India. The report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down to Earth also said that the country recorded 18.5 million lightning strikes between April 2020 and March 2021, which was a 34 per cent increase from the 13.8 million strikes between April 2019 and March 2020.
Punjab, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Puducherry, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal are some of the states that are the receiving end of these lightning strikes.
Of the total deaths between April 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021, Bihar reported 401 deaths, followed by Uttar Pradesh (238 deaths) and Madhya Pradesh (228 deaths).
In 2020-2021, at least 156 people died in Odisha, which accounted for over 13.5 per cent of the total lightning strikes in 2020-21. The state witnessed over two million strikes during this period, the report said.
Punjab witnessed an increased strike by 331 per cent. This was followed by Bihar (168 per cent), Haryana (164 per cent), Puducherry (117 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (105 per cent) and West Bengal (100 per cent). The report also noted that Odisha and Andhra Pradesh were able to reduce fatalities by almost 70 per cent in a short time.
The Report showed that the incidents revealed that seasonality of lightning was different for different states. When Andhra Pradesh recorded maximum incidences in June 2019 and October 2019, Bihar recorded the maximum incidences in September 2019. Odisha reported the maximum in June 2019. The report pointed out that it was important that lightning risk management programme was customised accordingly for each state according to the seasonality, intensity and frequency of lightning.
Down To Earth managing editor Richard Mahapatra noted that there was growing scientific evidence that climate change may be sparking more lightning across the world. Apart from this, rapid urbanisation and population growth also guaranteed an intensification of human exposure to hazard, he added.
Many studies have come out about on climate change, urbanisation and other factors augmenting the phenomenon. A California University study in 2015 projected that an increase in average global temperatures by 1ºC would increase the frequency of lightning by 12 per cent. Another paper in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics warned that the frequency and intensity of lightning strikes in India are expected to increase by 10-25 per cent and 15-50 per cent respectively by the end of the century.
Forest fires are also linked to increased lightning. Scientists from the Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Srinagar and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, studied the concentration of cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) in different weather conditions in the central Himalayan region. They found a five-time higher concentration of CCN in the atmosphere during forest fires as against during rains. Researchers in Australia in May 2021 linked excess CCN to the increased number of lightning strikes during the 2019-20 Australia forest fires,” said Kiran Pandey, programme director of CSE’s environmental resources unit.
In India, some progress has been made to counter the adverse effects of lightning strikes. The rise in fatalities has prompted the India Meteorological Department (IMD) to start lightning forecasts from April 1, 2019. Lightning India Resilient Campaign (LRIC), a joint initiative of several bodies such as Climate Resilient Observing-Systems Promotion Council (CROPC), National Disaster Management Authority, IMD, Union Ministry of Earth Sciences and others aims to reduce the number of deaths due to lightning strikes to less than 1,200 a year by 2022.