Lightning Call For Odisha

When 400 people died in Bihar and 200 in Assam floods, the death toll in two spells of floods in Odisha could be contained within 15. How was this possible? An effective disaster management by the Odisha Government made it possible. 

Odisha has proved to be a winner when it comes to severe cyclones like Phailin and Hudhud or floods in its rivers. The Zero Casualty approach of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik during disasters has paid rich dividends and the State won praise from across the globe including UN bodies. But Odisha accounts for 20 per cent of total lightning deaths in the country.

Why? The reason is amply clear as the State has no such Action Plan to contain deaths due to lightening. 

While 297 persons have so far died of lightning in 2017, the lightning death toll in 2016-17 was 398; and 402 people succumbed to this calamity 2015-16. The average death toll in lightning is about 350 in Odisha which is much more than a killer disease like Dengue or Swine Flu.

The State has Action Plans for fatal diseases, but there seems to have no such working on a more lethal calamity like lightning. The Centre also has not made any such action plan for the lightning for which the calamity is still categorized under State Specific Disaster. During pre-monsoon of 2017, lightning strikes have claimed a large number of lives in Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar.

Lightning strikes are common along with monsoon and hailstorms caused by cloud to cloud, in cloud or cloud to ground collision discharging huge uncontrolled negative energy towards earth.  A study by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) showed that the states of Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have been particularly hard hit by a rise in the number of lightning strikes in recent years.

Odisha accounts for the highest number of lightning fatalities (more than 20%) followed by Jharkhand (15%), West Bengal (15%), Bihar (less than 10%), Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, North Eastern States, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and others also register less than 10 per cent strikes. “The severity of thunderstorms has gone up, the main reason is higher temperature,” Dr. Sunil Pawar of IIM, Pune said.

The study also showed that while 89 per cent male persons died of lightning, women and children comprise five per cent and six per cent respectively. Generally, lightning strikes in the second half of the day when farmers are in agricultural fields and 95 per cent casualties are reported from rural areas and maximum people die while standing under tall trees. Water bodies like dam, pond and agricultural fields are highly vulnerable.

However, urban areas are less vulnerable due to having large numbers of lightning conductors, less number of trees and water bodies. The study also revealed that Odisha has highest casualties due to long coastline in the east and hilly region in the west, both presenting conducive conditions for lightning. Number of lightning days is also highest in Odisha. “It’s mostly due to coastal rains/clouds, cloud to cloud or cloud to ground lightning in plain open areas; pattern varies in southern western and northern Odisha particularly hilly regions where clouds are comparatively at lower level,” the study said.

What Governments, both Union and State, should do? As 95 per cent of lightning casualties are reported from rural areas and from the agricultural fields, the State needs to build pucca shelters where there is large greenery and agricultural fields. People outside their houses can take shelter during the lightning to avoid casualties. As people are evacuated to safer places during floods and cyclones, the State should make alternative arrangements in the vulnerable areas. Therefore, people at the helm should take care and identify the areas where lightning strikes most. A proper data-base on lightning prone areas would help mitigate the calamity. First of all, vulnerable pockets need to be identified before planning any corrective measures. However, the State so far has no such data base. 

The States of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar have, however, taken certain initiatives. These States have more or less geographical similarities with Odisha. Andhra Pradesh is more similar because it is located in the coast and also has hills on the other side of the State.

Places like Baba Dham and Nandan Pahar Deogarh, JSCA Stadium Ranchi and Birsa Munda Airport have installed the mechanism for safety. Government of Odisha can install such safe grids in Jagannath Temple, Puri and Sun Temple, Konark besides other vital installations.

Vulnerable States like Maharashtra, Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh should have Inter-State coordination to develop the mechanism to counter lightning casualties. There should be regular exchange of data and technology sharing among the states.

Of the total 29 States in the country, only seven to eight States are vulnerable to lightning and they should come together in their effort to save lives. The seven States can also take up joint efforts and work towards mitigation of the calamity by involving technical institutes like IITs and other earth science institutes.

While Andhra Pradesh Government has set up a multi-hazard warning system, West Bengal has signed a MOU with Earth networks for lightning data service. Both West Bengal and Bihar too have Lightning Action Plans. Bihar has decided to install LDS and had launched state wide drive on lightning Early Warning and Safe Grid System, Mitigation and Study on lightning prone zones.

The State Government needs to put a Lightning Action Plan and lightning arrester devices which can arrest the lightning before it is formed. Lightning arresters are installed in series to make the lightning safe. Early Warning system will be most advantageous as with increase in acute climate change activities, lightning will be more frequent and more fatal.

Capacity Building and Focused Approach to handle lightning and setting up Safe Grids to decrease causalities are some of the prescriptions experts offer.

Will Odisha Administration take a Lightning Call?

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