Protecting farmers from lightning | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 30, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:55 AM, August 30, 2018

Protecting farmers from lightning

Dear readers, perhaps you may remember Haru Ghosh from Manik Bandopadhyay's novel 'Putulnacher Itikatha'. He was standing under a colossal banyan tree and lightning struck him. If he didn't stand right under the tree, rather 10-12 feet away, he probably could be alive. Haru stood right under the tree to save himself from the thunderbolt. But, he was undone.

Similarly, many of us who live in the rural areas stand under the tree for shelter without being able to find any household in time of such lightning strikes. However, this kind of shelter-seeking increases the risk of unwanted death.

Recently, the rate of death by lightning strikes has exponentially increased. A research conducted by Bangladesh Agricultural University claims the number of death caused by thunders has increased in the last eight years, reaching 1800 in total; this is the all time highest death rate caused by lightning strikes. There is no technology to record the number of thunder strikes in our country. According to Indian Weather Office and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, 2400 lightning strikes take place on average in Bangladesh every year. Disaster Forum's report says that 205 people in 2017, 245 in 2016, 186 in 2015, 210 in 2014, 285 in 2013, 301 in 2012 and 179 in 2011 died due to lightning strike. And 90% of the dead are marginal farmers and farm labourers. It is the inevitable fate of grassroot farmers who have been fighting with hostile nature for decades.

For the sake of livelihood, farmers have to stay with nature. When nature becomes hostile, general farmers have to accept that punishment as well. There are opportunities of preparing beforehand for many natural disasters. But not in case of all. Earthquake and lightning strikes are the most scary and unexpected ones. I have already mentioned the death rate of the last eight years in this country. In India, this figure is massive. About two thousand people die by lightning every year there. A large portion of these people are farmers. At present, this death rate is on the rise. Scientists say that scarcity of palm tree is one of the main reasons for the increase of thunderbolt-related deaths. Before, thunderbolts used to fall on palm tree or some other big trees. Lightning is a kind of electricity. So the thunderbolt used to go down to the ground through the tree, as you all know.

Days ago, I went to Faringa village in Dhamrai, Dhaka. Surprisingly, I noticed that lightning is a subject of panic, quite naturally, to the people of the village. I heard that many farmers lost their lives due to lightning. Even domestic animals lost their lives on field. I talked to a farmer called Peyar Ali. He said his brother Iman Ali died by lightning. During the thunderstorm, four people, including Iman Ali, were under the same umbrella. Three got injured but Iman Ali died. This may seem a mystery to many. If four were together then how did only one die? Local young engineer, Md Monir Hossain explained the reason. Iman Ali was the one holding the umbrella. The handle of the umbrella was made of metal. And Iman Ali was barefooted. Because of which the electricity flowed through it. Iman Ali died as the whole of the electricity caused by the thunder entered through his body.

Losing loved ones due to lightning strikes is not only Peyar Ali's pain, Shamsul Alam, Yakub Ali, Sharifunnesa and many more also have the same sorrow. They said after burying the body of the deceased, they have to suffer another torment. Earlier several bodies of people who died by lightning got stolen. It is necessary to guard the body staying up all night. Hearing these tragedies of farmers and average people, I reached a vast green farm land.

A young engineer Monir Hossain who works with PWD, started a programme to control thunderbolts in Faringa village. He has been conducting many research and experiments. I went to Faringa village mainly to see his activities. I also intended to observe how much aware farmers are of lightning. After reaching, I saw Monir Hossain conducting a lightning awareness workshop with farmers. He talked to farmers, simply explaining the scientific aspects of lightning to the farmers. When a farmer works on a vast land, he is usually of the tallest height (if there is no large tree or house around). And a farmer normally has a metal equipment in his hand. That is why farmers get killed by thunder strikes. Monir Hossain has created a lightning strike insulation system to protect the farmers from lightning. He has put an iron bar on a 30-foot-long bamboo and placed something of a silver plate or a lid on it. An aluminium wire is pulled from there and is connected with a rod on the ground. That's how the earthing is done. Monir says a copper wire would work better. But copper wires are expensive and are likely to be stolen. So, he advises using aluminium wires. This earthing connection on a 30-foot-long bamboo will be able to protect everyone from thunder bolts in 30 feet area, says engineer Monir Hossain. He measures electricity protection level to show whether his installed system is working well enough. He says if the level is below 10 ohm, then the farmers are safe. The farmer will be able to carry out the management to everywhere he works. These were quite acceptable to farmers and people of the village. They also believe that they will be able to organise such arrangement in the field.

Dr Md Shamim Hassan Bhuiyan, climate change consultant from ADB, closely observed Monir Hossain's project after I showed him the video footage on my return. Shamim Hassan thanks Monir Hossain for undertaking such a project for the sake of farmers. He said Monir Hossain's system will be somewhat helpful if it is refined a bit. But there is no alternative to farmers' awareness. He says, counting the time between lightning and thunder will allow one to understand if the thunder is coming near. If the time between each thunder gradually decreases, that would mean the thunder is coming nearer to the farmer. Then he has to take shelter. While going to work in the field, farmers should carry a wooden or plastic tool with them. It is safe to wear rubber shoes on foot. And if the time between each thunder increases gradually, that would mean the thunder is going away from the farmer. Let's talk to Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology's Associate Professor Yasir Arafat about Monir Hossain's on-field lighting prevention system. He says that Monir's initiative is very scientific. But complete security cannot be ensured through it. He also asks the farmers to be aware of lightning strikes. In this case he mentions the 30:30 formula. If the sound of lightning is heard after 30 seconds of seeing it, that would mean thunders are nearby. Then, the farmer must take shelter at a safe place and wait there for thirty minutes. If you take shelter under a big tree, you must be 10 to 12 feet away from the root of the tree.

A technology for collectively protecting people from a sudden natural disaster like lightning hasn't arrived yet in the world. Although thunder is a cause of loss, it has beneficial sides too. Science says the whole source of nitrogen or protein in the ground is nitric acid which is made by lightning and rain. According to many biologists around the world, lightning also contributed to create the first-ever protoplasm. Thus, there is no alternative to being aware for enjoying the benefits of lightning strikes. Farmers and average people are to be taught the methods of protecting themselves from lightning strikes. Especially, it is highly dangerous for farmers who work in open fields. And so, they must consider the protection measures before going to the field during the period of thunderstorms. If farmers are a little aware, they can avoid the risk of losing life even in hostile environment. People involved should think about a comprehensive system of effective security for lightning. In this case, the primary initiative of the young engineer is praiseworthy. However, it is a must to research on Monir's new innovation at a higher level. It is very important to invent a refined and a more appropriate method that will be convenient for a farmer at field level or any people at risk of lightning strike anywhere in the country. I would conclude by saying in this age of climate change, it is every farmer's duty to ensure his own safety being utmost careful and aware of the risks around him. As farmers are also a part of nature, they should understand nature better than anyone else.


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