Lightning strikes killed at least 27 persons in a span of 24 hours in five districts of India's eastern state of West Bengal.
Although the state government has asked district administrators to launch awareness campaigns, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that relations of someone who has been killed will receive INR 200,000 (estimated $2,743) and those who have been injured will receive INR 50,000 ($685). The Indian Meteorological Department has warned of more lightning in the next 48 hours.
Lightning strikes are pretty common but experts say that the number of deaths in a single day in West Bengal is unprecedented.
My thoughts are with all those who lost their near and dear ones due to lightning in parts of West Bengal. May the injured recover at the earliest.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) June 7, 2021
Studies have predicted a whopping 50 percent rise in deadly lightning strikes by the end of this century because of the rise in sea surface area.
Experts have expressed concerns about the increasing number of deaths from lightning. There have been investigations to find a correlation between the rise of lightning strikes with climate change.
"Because of a rise in temperature, there is more heat in the atmosphere. More seawater is evaporated leading to frequent storms. Storms with a high number of water droplets are likely to turn violent and result in thunderstorms. So there is a direct connection between global warming and the rise in thunderstorms. Instances of bolts of lightning have increased in the subcontinent over the years," Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmentalist based in Tamil Nadu, told Sputnik.
Lightning strikes are almost regular between April and June during the onset of the monsoon in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, Dr Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, a senior official at the Indian Meteorological Department, said
"The eastern part of India and Bangladesh are prone to lightning. But our data is to limited to allow us to say that the high occurrence is because of climate change," he added.
The Met department last year launched the early warning systems (EWS) to forewarn against thunderstorms. The Indian government has also launched a mobile application, Damini, to track information related to thunder. But the dissemination of information in rural areas remains a challenge because there is a shortage of smartphones.
Environmentalists claim that the only way to cut down deaths is to raise awareness among people.
"Everyone needs to be educated on what to do and not do when lightning strikes," Mohapatra added.
Kolkata-based activist Nitish Roy argued that despite being aware of the prevailing lighting situation the Environment Ministry is not acting on it.
"Mostly it's farmers and labourers who get killed as they work in open fields. Where are the measures to raise awareness? Why aren't they making sure that the warnings reach every corner of the countryside," he asked.
India’s first Annual Lightning Report recorded 1,771 deaths from lightning between April 2019 and March 2020. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 3,000 people in India died from lightning in 2018.
Even though several states continue to show an upward trend in deaths, the country in the past three years has made progress with real-time data collection from satellite images from the Indian Space Research Organisation. The state of Odisha has seen nearly a 62 percent fall in casualties from lightning strikes since 2017.