One million palm trees against lethal lightning

Since 2010, about 1,500 people have died from lightning, 274 in 2015, and 349 (82 in a single day) in the first months of 2016, according to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department. In view of the situation, the government has decided to reforest rural areas by June. Experts express their opinion.

Dhaka (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Bangladesh will plant one million palm trees in rural areas by June, Shah Kamal, secretary of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, announced.

The reforestation campaign is due to the large number of lightning-related deaths caused by storms that precede the monsoon season. Palm trees act as natural lightning conductors during storms because of their height.

Since 2010 about 1,500 people have died from lightning, Bangladesh Meteorological Department data show. The Foundation for Disaster Forum indicates that 274 Bangladeshis died this way in 2015. In the first nine months of 2016, the death toll reached 349 (82 in a single day).

"The official figures are not entirely accurate, because many families often do not inform the authorities of the death of people struck by lightning," the Foundation said.

Launched in December 2016, the campaign was planned together with forest conservation groups in order to reforest rural areas.

“Palm trees take years to grow. But definitely, this is a good move by the government,” said Shah Alam, a former head of Bangladesh Meteorological Department. Because farmland is increasingly barren, people die from lighting strikes and plants are needed as conductors. If this campaign is carried out, “It will reduce deaths.”

Experts blame rapid deforestation on intensive rice cultivation and global warming. What is certain is that spring storms – known in South Asia as Kal Baisakhi – will continue to cause typhoons and lightning.

"Bangladesh is the most vulnerable country to awful storms that ravage the land and always come with a lot of lightning,” said Abdul Mannan, a meteorology department official in Dhaka.

Even neighbours like Nepal, Bhutan and the states of northeast India are affected by these disasters, but not as severely, he added.

Planting palm trees is a good idea, but "if we really want to solve the problem, we will have to ensure that buildings have floors made with insulation materials as well as lightning conductors," said Shahidul Hassan, engineering professor at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

So far, the government has not made public the costs of reforestation nor who will remove trees hit by lightning.