In Pakistan, where the recent deadly rains have displaced millions of people and more than 1,300 have lost their lives, another phenomenon is compounding the suffering of the people: that of lightning strikes.
Muhammad Amin got up early in the morning and after drinking a cup of tea went to the field to sow paddy with the rest of his household, believing that he would complete the sowing before returning in the evening. But little did he know that he would walk on the path from which no one has returned.
“It is the grace of Allah that I was miraculously saved, but unfortunately I lost two of my nephews and one cousin,” says Muhmmad Panah Wako, a farmer who is an eyewitness to tragedy. While wiping his moist eyes with the fold of his shirt, he explains how it happened:
“I was two feet away from them. My two nephews, 25-year-old Muhammad Ishaq, 14-year-old Muhammad Khan, sons of Muhammad Raban Ali Wako, and one cousin 30-year-old Muhammad Amin son of Sikandar Ali Wako, were sitting together under a tree with me, in the afternoon, after sowing dahan (rice paddy) on the land. We were having lunch when suddenly lightning struck us, and swallowed them immediately on the spot.”
They had no chance to save their lives. Muhammad Ishaq and Muhammad Khan’s father Raban Wako were burned and injured. When the dead bodies of the three were brought home, the atmosphere became mournful – everyone’s eyes were full of tears.”
35-year-old Muhmmad Panah Wako belongs to the village Vika Mori, Wagan, a remote area roughly 20 km from the Qambar-Shahdadkot district headquarters. He and his family have been farming for years.
“It was a natural phenomenon before which we looked helpless. We could not do anything even if we wanted to,” Wako says. “My only prayer is that Allah keeps everyone safe and in His shelter.”
A threat to livestock and property
This tragedy is only the latest to show how lightning strikes are a major threat to human lives as well as to people’s properties, forests, cultivated trees and livestock.
22-year-old Abdul Rehman Hingorjo, a herdsman’s son, says that his father returned home in the evening on the 5th of August this year. Having herded his flock of goats for a whole day, he was putting them in their pen for the night, when lightning struck them suddenly – and 70 goats died on the spot. The incident took place in a village Mahyari Hingorja, some 30 to 35 km away from Islamkot, near the coalfields in Tharparkar district.
“These goats were our main source of livelihood. Half of them were our own goats and the other half belonged to other people in the village, which my father grazed on a partnership basis. Now everything has been destroyed due to this natural calamity,” he says with deep sorrow. “My father used to care for these goats like his own children. We had reared them with great efforts, and now we have lost everything that we worked for.”
Most people in Tharparkar pay Rs 200 to 300 per goat per month to a herdsman to graze them. And this tradition has been ongoing here for a long time.
Another incident of lightning occurred in village Somarji Dani of Nangarparkar tehsil, Tharparkar, on the 24th of August, in which around 16 sheep were killed on the spot by a lightning strike.
Recently, in the heavy rains from mid-June to July-August 2022, like every rainy season, the lives of people have been ruined due to floods in the monsoon rains. But along with these perils, protecting people from lightning strikes during rain is another big challenge. People feel unsafe in their homes and are compelled to spend time in the shadow of constant fear during the rain.
Apart from this, the loss of life and property due to lightning in many areas of Sindh during the recent rains has been reported in the local media.
Risks worsen as people are displaced
At a time when thousands of people have left their homes due to flash floods and are moving around in search of a dry place to save their lives, and helpless people are languishing on the streets and wilderness under the open sky, the risk has increased even more.
Expressing their concerns, these flood-affected people say that now that there is no roof over their heads, there are more chances of lightning strikes. They feel very insecure in the face of predicted rains in the ongoing month.
According to the National Weather Service, lightning is hotter than the surface of the Sun and can reach temperatures of about 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. A typical lightning flash is about 300 million volts and a current of 30,000 amps. In comparison, household current is 120 volts and 15 amps.
Precautions and safety measures
Dr. Gordhan Valasai is a Associate Professor at the Quaid-e-Awam University of Engineering, Science and Technology, Nawabshah, Sindh (QUEST) and has a PhD in Energy Modeling. He says that during heavy rains, people are understandably afraid due to lightning. In such a situation, without caution, lives are certainly at risk.
Dr. Valasai suggests that before going out in the rain, one should know the weather and go out according to the weather forecast, being especially heedful of thunder. And during rain, as soon as lightning appears, one has to take shelter immediately: in a house, office or roofed vehicle.
According to Dr. Gordhan, if one is under the open sky, they should not sleep on the ground, but roll up with knees bent towards the chest. “If you are in a crowd of people or livestock, promptly disperse when lightning flashes begin. Also, do not go near electric poles, iron pipes, rods or any cement wall, windows and doors until the danger is over.”
In addition, he says that during lightning strikes, one must stay away from water, avoid bathing or washing dishes in water. Also, iron, landline telephone (with wires connecting it), TV, desktop computers and any other items connected to direct electricity supplies should be avoided.