Demand to declare lightning as natural disaster gains momentum

(Last Updated On: March 13, 2023)

Several states have demanded that ‘lightning’ be declared as a ‘natural disaster’ because deaths caused by it surpass any other disaster in the country.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) member secretary Kamal Kishore said this on Saturday.

Kishore said that it was a policy issue and deliberations were required.

Also read: Assam: Youth dies after being struck by lightning in Dibrugarh

According to present norms, cyclone, drought, earthquake, fire, flood, tsunami, hailstorm, landslide, avalanche, cloudburst, pest attack, frost and cold waves are considered as disasters that are covered under the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), 75 per cent of which is funded by the Centre.

Since the 1960s, the biggest killer accounting for the most number of natural hazard deaths in India has largely gone unnoticed and is steadily on the rise.

Also read: Lightning kills 18 persons in Rajasthan

The rise in lightning strikes can be attributed to higher levels of moisture, rapidly rising air, and higher temperatures, resulting in more thunderstorms.

Death by lightning, affecting rural areas and tribal populations most acutely, more than doubled between 1967 and 2021, data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCBR) shows.

Lightning deaths are recorded under the ‘accidental deaths’ category by the NCRB.

Despite accounting for 35 per cent of all deaths due to natural hazards — including those caused by landslides, flooding, and earthquakes — lightning-related deaths are yet to capture policymakers’ attention in the same measure.

Even though it is the most fatal of natural hazards in India, lightning isn’t classified as a natural disaster by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), with repercussions down to the state level.

Incidentally, heat waves, too, are not recognised as a natural disaster at the national level under the National Disaster Management Act, 2005.

Delhi-based disaster research non-profit Climate Resilient Observing Systems Promotion Council (CROPC) stated in its annual report for 2021-2022 that only 16 states in India had declared lightning a state disaster. The report pointed out, “Wherein 10 per cent of State Disaster Relief Fund can be committed to state specific disasters. Such provisions do not serve the purpose and in most of the schemes, lightning is not incorporated as a disaster.”

An official with the NDMA who did not wish to be named said the central government is taking a more active interest in preventing lightning deaths and that the NDMA is considering focusing on preventive measures and mitigation activities that can be scaled up at a district-level to potentially save lives.

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