Demand for Lightning to be Declared a Natural Disaster

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    • Some Indian States have recently demanded lightning to be considered a natural disaster.

    About

    • At present, Cyclone, drought, earthquake, fire, flood, tsunami, hailstorm, landslide, avalanche, cloudburst, pest attack, frost, and cold waves are considered disasters.
    • These disasters are covered under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) which is 75% funded by the Centre.
    • Lightning prevalence is more at night and early hours in hilly states and more during the day in the plains.
    • Strikes can cause cardiac arrest and severe burns, but 9 of every 10 people survive.
    • Hundreds more survive strikes but suffer from a variety of lasting symptoms, including memory loss, dizziness, weakness, numbness, and other life-altering ailments.
    • Lightning is dangerous, and about 2,000 people are killed worldwide by lightning each year with farmers being the most affected and deaths are more during the rainy season.
    • India is among only five countries in the world that has an early warning system for lightning in which the forecast is available from five days to up to three hours in advance of the predicted event.

    What is lightning?

    • Lightning is an electrical discharge caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground, or within the clouds themselves where most of the lightning occurs.
    • During a storm, colliding particles of rain, ice, or snow inside storm clouds increase the imbalance between storm clouds and the ground, and often negatively charge the lower reaches of storm clouds.
    • Objects on the ground, like steeples, trees, and the Earth itself, become positively charged—creating an imbalance that nature seeks to remedy by passing current between the two charges.
    • Cloud-to-ground lightning bolts are a common phenomenon with about 100 striking Earth’s surface every second.
    • A typical cloud-to-ground lightning bolt begins when a step-like series of negative charges, called a stepped leader, races downward from the bottom of a storm cloud toward the Earth along a channel at about 200,000 mph (300,000 kph).

    Impact of Lightning

    • Madhya Pradesh had the highest number of lightning-related deaths (162), followed by Maharashtra (121), Gujarat (72), Bihar (70), Rajasthan (49), and Chhattisgarh (40).
    • India has experienced 90,632 deaths due to lightning strikes between 1972 and 2019.
    • The Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2021 report confirms that 40.4% of deaths due to natural disasters took place due to lightning.
    • Lightning adversely impacts the agriculture, aviation, power, and communication sectors.
    • Rural and forest areas are the most vulnerable due to the presence of water bodies and tall trees.
    • 96% of lightning deaths occurred in rural areas.
    • 77% of farmers are killed due to lightning as they work in agricultural fields during the Kharif cropping season in the monsoon period.

    Challenges of Lightning in India

    • High mortality rate: Lightning strikes kill more than 2,000 people in India every year, making it one of the deadliest weather-related hazards in the country.
    • Lack of awareness: There is a lack of awareness among the general public about the dangers of lightning, which often leads to fatalities and injuries.
    • Poor lightning protection infrastructure: Most buildings and structures in India are not equipped with lightning protection systems, making them vulnerable to lightning strikes.
    • Limited lightning data: There is limited data on lightning strikes in India, which makes it difficult to develop effective lightning protection policies and strategies.
    • Climate change: Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of thunderstorms, which could lead to more lightning strikes in the future.
    • Limited resources: India has limited resources to invest in lightning protection infrastructure and research, which makes it challenging to mitigate the risks associated with lightning.

    Government steps for disaster management

    • Disaster Management Act, 2005: The act provides a legal framework for the management of disasters in the country and lays down the responsibilities of various agencies and authorities and outlines the procedures for disaster management.
    • National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA): It was established in 2005 to provide a comprehensive and integrated approach to disaster management in the country. 
    • State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs): Each state has a separate SDMA which works in coordination with the NDMA and other agencies to mitigate the impact of disasters.
    • National Disaster Response Force (NDRF): The NDRF is a specialized force created to respond to disasters and provide relief & rescue operations and comprises battalions stationed across the country.
    • Early Warning Systems: The government has set up early warning systems for various disasters, such as cyclones, earthquakes, floods, and landslides. These systems use technology to provide timely warnings to people in the affected areas.
    • Capacity building: The government has initiated various capacity-building programs to improve the skills and knowledge of the stakeholders involved in disaster management. 
    • National Disaster Management Plan (NDMP): It is a comprehensive plan developed by the government to address all aspects of disaster management, including prevention, mitigation, and response. 
    • International cooperation: The government has signed various agreements with other countries and international organizations to share knowledge, resources, and best practices in disaster management.

    What more can be done?

    • The government should include lightning as a “natural disaster” to minimise lightning-related deaths.
    • Mapping vulnerable populations with potential lightning hotspots, improving early warning systems, and installing lightning detection systems are critical measures.
    • The government should prepare a database related to lightning strikes, gender-wise lightning deaths, and occupation-wise fatalities at the district, state, and central levels for devising an action plan against lightning strikes.
    • Training and community awareness programs are essential measures to minimise deaths due to lightning.

    Way ahead

    • Although the government has taken several steps to improve disaster management in India, there is a need to bring lightning under its ambit.
    • While there are still challenges to be addressed, targeted steps can help in building a robust disaster management system in the country.

    Source: TH