At least 1,164 deaths in lightning strikes from 2016-20
The government has taken several initiatives to protect people from thunderstorms and lightning strikes, but the projects are progressing at a snail’s pace.
Government sources said the projects were progressing slowly as they had been stalled since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Disaster Management and Relief Ministry declared lightning strikes a disaster after 80 people died on a single stormy day in the country in 2016. From then until December 2020, the ministry recorded 1,164 deaths in lightning strikes.
In 2017, the ministry took up a plan to plant one million palm tree seedlings across the country to protect people from lightning strikes. The plan was later revised to planting the seeds of 10 million palm trees, as enough palm tree seedlings were not available.
From 2017 till December 2020, the ministry managed to plant seeds of 3.9 million palm trees.
“Only 100,000 palm trees have been planted since the government announced the general holiday to combat Covid-19 [in March last year],” an official of the Disaster Management and Relief Ministry told Dhaka Tribune on condition of anonymity.
State Minister for Disaster Management and Relief Dr Md Enamur Rahman said: “The 10 million palm tree program became slower because of the multiple waves of Covid-19, but we will be on our way to meeting the target soon.”
The ministry also took up a project to install lightning rods and forecasting equipment, as palm trees usually need 15-20 years to reach a height, that will be effective for drawing away lightning strikes. The lightning rods are to be installed in the haors and flat land areas.
However, the implementation of this project has also been stalled by the pandemic and other reasons.
The ministry has decided to import the technology from Japan, but the instruments still had not been imported till May this year.
The implementation of the project requires the involvement of various ministries and government departments, including the Public Works Department, Local Government Division and local administrations of districts. A lack of coordination between these bodies is delaying the installation of the lightning rods, officials said.
“As we cannot build structures across the country to install the lightning forecasting instrument due to the pandemic, the importing process is on hold,” said Md Enamur Rahman.
“The lightning forecasting instrument can alert people at the crop fields 10-30 minutes before lightning strikes, which could help save lives,” he told Dhaka Tribune.
The Bangladesh Meteorological Department in 2019 installed lightning sensors in eight districts of the country on a pilot basis at a cost of Tk20 crore to forecast areas where lightning strikes are likely. However, the project has not been implemented further.
“The installation of lightning sensor technology has been delayed due to Covid-19. However, we are optimistic about installing the lightning assessment machine within six months,” said Dr Md Abdul Mannan, meteorologist and scientist at the Storm Warning Centre of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.
“Awareness is most important to protect people from lightning. Without building awareness, alerts or forecasts will not be effective,” he added.
“March-July is the hottest time in Bangladesh and the moist air quickly rises upward to meet with dry north-westerly winds to cool and form large storm clouds,” said Monemul Islam, meteorologist of Dhaka Met Office.
Thunderstorms will increase in the next week, he told Dhaka Tribune.
University of Dhaka department of electrical and electronic engineering Prof Dr Saeed Mahmud Ullah said: “The government should launch an awareness campaign to save people from lightning disasters. People need to know they cannot go into an open field during a lightning storm.”