Sunday, 24 October, 2021
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Coping with Thunderstorm: A Reality in Rural and Urban Life

Mehruba Islam

Coping with Thunderstorm: A Reality in Rural and Urban Life

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Couple of weeks back, I had a conversation with my next-door neighbours who were complaining with their household electric gadget and WiFi router. At a certain point of the conversation, I revealed that it was nothing, but the growing intensity of thunderstorm (TS) was liable for all those mishaps. In city life, none of us gets the chance to switch off electric gadgets/routers during thunderstorm, as we are in workstations during the occurrence. In cityscape at least we can expect or take initiatives to install thunderstorm protector in our residential complex. However, we the city dwellers are pretty much lucky to soak up the sonic shock of TS through replacing electric gadgets or staying at home for safety; but what about the poor farmer or fisherman living in rural areas? 

Farmers of our country have no way out except accepting the death shock of on a sudden. Statistics shows that 70% of the total fatalities from thunderstorm occurred at agriculture fields. In addition, 14% during bath and rest 13% during fishing. The most alarming point is that 90% of total deaths are reported as male and 10% are female. It indicates that the bread earner of an agrarian family is too helpless during thunderstorm. He and his cattle are the confirm victims of thunderstorm. Neither he can hold on to the old stylish wooden handle umbrella nor can he afford the heavy rubber scandal or rubber blanket to cover up himself or his lovely cattle during TS.

TS, causing a huge toll in public health, economic and social life has been enlisted as natural disaster of Bangladesh in 2016. Thunderstorm, as a violent local storm produced by a cumulonimbus cloud and accompanied by thunder and lightning, represents extreme convective activity in the atmosphere depending upon the release of latent heat, by the condensation of water vapour, for most of its energy.

From scientific point of view, a thunderstorm is the result of convection. The sun heats the surface of the earth, which warms the air above it. Three basic ingredients namely moisture, rising unstable air (air that keeps rising when given a nudge), and a lifting mechanism are required for a thunderstorm to form and to provide the “nudge.”

TS is a natural climatic phenomenon. Around 70% of total global TS takes place in tropical region which is around 1.4 billion in numeric value and in every second 44 TS are recorded in this specific region. However, globally, Brazil and Venezuela are well known for TS. In Bangladesh, maximum TS is observed from March to May in the division of Sylhet and Dhaka at the district of Sunamganj, Habiganj, Netrokona, Kishoreganj respectively. In 2017, a research report published by NASA and the University of Maryland identified highest occurrence of TS in the district of Sunamganj, Bangladesh.

A study conducted by the department of environmental science of the Bangladesh Agricultural University (BAU) identified that TS has taken away around 1986 lives in between 2010 to 2017 and 32 per cent of the cases were reported in the month of May alone. Another Statistics from the Ministry of Disaster and Relief showed that in 2016, around 43 lakh TS took place and took away 205 valuable lives. Later, in 2018 the highest number (359 people) of fatality were report with approximately 40 lakh TS. On an average 216 death per year is recorded in Bangladesh.

The increased rate of TS in Bangladesh refers to a range of causes. Firstly, mindless chopping of taller trees (Coconut and Plum trees) is a well acknowledge cause for accelerated rate of TS. Once upon a time, we could easily remember one’s house or plot/piece of land through demarcating with a tree. In our childhood, we used to recite the famous poem ‘Oi Dekha jai Tal Gach, Oi Amader Gao…’’. Traditionally, trees are the most common element to locally naming or identifying any specific point like school, mosque, household etc. However, such practice is getting out of order day by day. Now, no one can strongly claim on such any point for long time due to massive destruction of older and taller trees.

A study on Taipei, Taiwan revealed the impact of urban heat island (UHI) in the occurrence of thunderstorm. The urbanization in Taipei city contribute to increasing heat at a trend of 0.5 - 1 degree centigrade in daily UHI and an increase of 27% in the afternoon thunderstorm frequency. The research result identified that increase of thunderstorm would result into a bigger rainwater flow to the river and a fewer time for it to percolate to the ground. This result also warned about future lack of groundwater discharge and depletion of groundwater reserve caused by the thunderstorm phenomenon.

Another study conducted on a range of cities in the southeastern United States demonstrates positive urban amplification of thunderstorm frequency and intensity for major cities. Mid-sized cities investigated had more subtle urban effects, suggesting that the urban influences on thunderstorm development and strength are muted by land cover and climatological controls. By examining cities of various sizes, as well as rural counterparts, the investigation determined that the degree of urban thunderstorm augmentation corresponds to the geometry of the urban footprint.

Secondly, disruption in natural climatic condition and air composition are also in the list of reliable causes behind such erratic nature of TS which may include higher percentage of lead in atmosphere and decrease in water bodies in the environment. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming has a scientific correlation in speeding up TS. Nonetheless, another group of people from Bangladesh claim that widespread installation of mobile tower has fuelled the issue. A research on TS uncovered that one degree increase in air temperature leads to 12% increase in the probability of TS occurrence. A research conducted by Islam et al (2021) investigated the forecasting of thunderstorm through time series modelling. This study dealt with historical data of 39 years of thunderstorm-days and suggested that using SARIMA model might be very useful to have an insight about the monthly occurrence of thunderstorm-days in Bangladesh (Islam et al, 2021).  

Aftermath of TS is not yet well known in civil society except to the sufferer alone. TS causes a rumbling noise with a shock wave. This shock wave causes damage in both physical and human resources. Apart from fatality, TS ruptures the eardrums of people nearby, leading to temporary deafness or permanent hear loss (Vavrek, 2020).

The government of Bangladesh has declared TS as a natural disaster in 2016 whenever the fatality from TS started to increase abruptly. However, it is evident that farmers are the main victims of TS. Naturally, while working in the open agriculture field, it is not at all possible for them to come back. Therefore, handy tool like wearing rubber made scandals or to cover with rubber blanket and avoiding large tree shade and umbrella with steel/metal handle are the firsthand tips that they are advised to follow during March to May.

Bangladesh has a remarkable reputation in the domain of disaster management. At policy level, to reduce the deaths, disabilities, damage form TS, series of initiatives are in practice. More than 28 lakh plum tree has been planted by roadside in the last couple of years to absorb the primary shock wave of TS and thereby, safeguarding the pedestrian or vehicles from shock wave. Plantation of plum tree and innovative local approaches to reduce TS based fatality are closely monitored through the monthly report return sent by upazila and district administration. Apart from the above-mentioned handy techniques, government is working on field level planning for the installation of best suited lightening arrester or thunder protective system/model applicable for Bangladesh.

Several other community-based approaches seem to be very effective in dealing with TS fatality rate reduction. For instance, ‘Nowcasting’ must be recognized as the best tool to create awareness among people. Experience from previous disaster management techniques refers that involvement of community leaders and spokesman (Headmaster, Teachers, Imam, Social worker, NGO worker) from institutions (like school, mosque, mandir, pagoda) come up with effective outcome. Pre-thunderstorm alarming sound/siren notice/miking from this institution might be the best possible way to make people aware and prepared on beforehand.

Similarly, another most effective disaster management strategy is open learning sessions. For example, introducing lessons on TS at school level curriculum will make the next generation aware about TS and the kids will carry out the message to household. Then comes the community gathering space like, mosque during khutba (special form of recitation on Friday prayer), women’s yard meeting, scout camps, girls guide session would lead to create mass awareness in society. Ministry of Disaster and Relief needs to publish and distribute ‘Disaster calendar’ to every rural household and institutions (school, college, mosques, community places etc) with the help of its field level organs and local government institutions.

Mass media, like TV, community radio should broadcast advertisement on self-protection mechanism against TS. The key self-protection message is to sit on toe and put finger into ears. Rubber blanket can be distributed among farmers and fisherman to get protection from TS during farming or fishing. Nonetheless, Bangladesh has 100% electrification coverage. Electric pole can be used as thunder arrester in barren field where it is hard to install otherwise setup to prevent TS.

In addition, few more initiatives are essential to carry out, like; budget allocation for most accurate lightning detection products and services; Installation of TS arrester in every household/ farmland from the TR/Food for Work fund. This approach is similar with the nationwide installation process of solar panel. Ministry of Agriculture can take initiatives to distribute protection kit bag for farmers. In this regard, mobile operator should come forward as a part of CSR to install TS arrester along with mobile tower. Finally, we can hope that TS arrester installation would also be successful one in collaboration with all local government institutions.

In case of the city dwellers, it is essentially important to maintain self-protection guidelines advised for TS. One should restrain him/her from staying outside/rooftop while it is raining with thunderstorm. Parents and school authority should warn children regarding the to do during TS. Newspaper and media should play a vital role in social awareness issue. At the same time, one should switch off electric device like, PC, TV, WiFi router and stop conversation in mobile phone. Kids should be placed in the middle of room, obviously away from open window. Motor vehicles must not be in driving mode, if possible, park it in safe place but not under tree. Being a responsible citizen, everybody should voluntarily check whether TS arrester device is installed in the roof top of residential complex. If not, try to arrange it through collaborative action. Finally, massive awareness creation is the greatest tool to be safe from the side effect of thunderstorm. Let us know about TS and encourage other to follow by the simple life saving guidelines irrespective of your, location urban or rural. 

 

The writer is a graduate in Public Policy & Management, University of Melbourne, Australia