Deaths due to lightning in the tribal regions of Odisha, India
By: Dr Madhulika Sahoo and Dr Nibedita S. Ray-Bennett
Lightning strikes kill people. Lightning deaths are increasing at an alarming rate in India. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) lightning deaths has doubled since the late 1960s (Down to Earth, 2016). In 2019 alone, there were 2,876 deaths (The New India Express, 2021).
The Government of India has undertaken several mitigation measures (both structural and non-structural) to address reducing deaths from cyclone, earthquake, and flood-related deaths. However, there is not enough attention been given to addressing lightning deaths.
Who dies from lightning ?
Especially the tribal people living in the hilly terrain areas are at high risk of dying from the strikes of lightning . The first author came across many harrowing stories of lightning deaths through her field research in the tribal areas of Odisha. She observed that many tribal villages lack resources or infrastructure to protect them from lightning. The predicament of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) living mostly in hilly terrain areas of Odisha is telling. There are no early warnings for lightning for the PVTGs.
According to the New Indian Express (2021), places largely inhabited by PVTGs in Mayurbhanj (161), Ganjam (123), Keonjhar (119), and Balasore (109) in Odisha are carrying the high burden of lightning deaths. Sadly, these deaths are not unique to Odisha.
A recent report published by the Lightning Resilient India Campaign 2019-2021 (Srivastava, n.d.) found that most deaths due to lightning in India happen in tribal-dominated states such as Madhya Pradesh (248), Bihar (221), Odisha (200), and Jharkhand (172). Of these five states, the north-eastern states and Chotnagpur plateau region is considered to be the lightning hotspot. These findings concur with the latest Annual Lightning Report 2020-2021 published by the Ministry of Earth Sciences (Government of India, 2021), which found that the PVTGs across the country are vulnerable to lightning strikes as they work and live in hilly areas.
How can lightning deaths be avoided?
It is recommended that the Government of Odisha builds infrastructure for radar similar to Paradip and Gopalpur for providing a warning to the PVTGs on thunderstorms and lightning. The information, education and communication (IEC) materials in vernacular language are desperately needed to raise awareness on how to prevent lightning deaths in the abovementioned districts of Odisha (Mayurbhanj, Gamjam, Keonjhar, Balasore), which are carrying the high burden of lightning deaths
The ‘Lightning Resilient India Campaign’ led by NDMA, Indian Red Cross Society, UNICEF, and All India Radio are to be scaled up in PVTG areas. The main aim of this campaign is to reduce lightning deaths by 80% in the next three years. This campaign focuses on a state-wise lightning action plan, and promoting volunteer training programmes in all the hard-to-reach areas under the ambit of the programme called ‘Aapda Mitra’ which aims to train local tribal people as first responders.
Authors’ short bios: Dr. Madhulika Sahoo is the ADN Editorial Manager and Regional Coordinator – India, as well as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Kalahandi University. Dr. Nibedita Ray-Bennett is the Founding President of the ADN and an Associate Professor in Risk Management at the University of Leicester.
Srivastava, S. (n.d.) ‘Tribals and marginalised most vulnerable to lightning-lightening resilient India Campaign 2019-2021’, PreventionWeb. Available at: https://www.unisdr.org/preventionweb/files/66192_tribalsandmarginalisedindia.pdf
Choudhary, M. (2022) ‘Jharkhand farmers, tribal areas remain at the mercy of lightning’, Down to Earth. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/natural-disasters/jharkhand-farmers-tribal-areas-remain-at-mercy-of-lightning-84336
The New Indian Express. (2021). ‘Deaths caused by lightning doubled in 50 years’, The New Indian Express. Available at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/jul/13/deaths-caused-by-lightning-doubled-in-50-years-2329358.html
Government of India. (2021) ‘India: Annual Lightning Report 2020-2021 (Executive Summary)’, ReliefWeb. Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/india/india-annual-lightning-report-2020-2021-executive-summary
Down To Earth. (2016) ‘Deaths by Lightning: facts and figures’. Available at: https://www.downtoearth.org.in/factsheet/death-by-lightning-facts-and-figures-54516
Mehta, A. (2022) ‘Odisha sees maximum lightning deaths in the country’, The New Indian Express. Available at: https://www.newindianexpress.com/states/odisha/2022/jan/15/odisha-sees-maximum-lightning-deaths-in-the-country-2407084.html
News 18. (2021) ‘Odisha: 1621 people killed in lightning strikes in the last four years’. Available at: https://www.news18.com/news/india/odisha-1621-people-killed-lightning-strikes-last-4-years-4164950.html