Lightning illuminates the night sky in Chennai
© Ashwin Prasath
Lightning illuminates the night sky in Chennai
With increasing number of deaths due to thunderstorm and lightning, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), for the first time, has issued guidelines to State governments to prepare an action plan, which will help develop measures for assessment, forecast, preparedness and mitigation through coordinated efforts with multi-agencies and undertake reconstruction as an opportunity to build disaster-resilient structures and habitat.

The NDMA document says that on an average, over 2,500 people die annually. In Tamil Nadu, about 500 people died in lightning strikes between 2011 to 2015.The draft guidelines were issued on Friday and various stakeholders have been asked to send comments/suggestions within 15 days. As per official statistics, India reports the highest number of deaths due to lightning strikes. Lightning claimed 35,384 lives in the country from 2000 to 2015.

Last year in May, six women workers were killed in Chengam in Tiruvannamalai district when lightning struck a chimney at a rice mill. From 1967 to 2012, lightning accounted for about 39 per cent of deaths that resulted from natural disasters in India. Experts also believe that the severity and frequency of thunderstorm/lightning are expected to rise in the years ahead. "The increase in occurrence and severity is a wake-up call for all agencies to take appropriate action for prevention, preparedness and mitigation in order to save lives, livestock, property and infrastructure," said V Thiruppugazh, joint secretary, NDMA, while issuing the guidelines which also talk about squall and strong wind.

In the documents, NDMA has also called for hazard-zoning work at micro-level. The area must be clearly marked, as to whether it is vulnerable to mild, moderate or intensive hazard and the probable cost of damage to crops from the squall events or thunderstorm of different intensity. The authority has detailed the steps to develop an action plan and early warning and communication process.

Before preparation of the action plan, the State governments were asked to map the lightning-affected zones based on the data of deaths available with NCRB, data of lightning incidence available with radar system etc. NDMA has recommended to India Meteorological Department to enhance the radar and lightning network to all potential areas. At present, major cities (403 cities and towns) which come under the coverage of Doppler Weather Radar have been included for nowcasting of convective weather.