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The number of lightning deaths in Bangladesh has increased dramatically as a result of climate change.

Mamun buried 16 of his relatives on the day he expected to celebrate his wedding.

They were struck by lightning on their way to the ceremony. When a heavy storm hit, his family members boarded a boat to join Mamun, dressed in their finest saris and suits. When they were hit, the boat had pulled over and they were taking shelter under a tin shed on the riverbank as the rain lashed down.

According to the UN, an average of 300 people are killed by lightning each year in Bangladesh, which is plagued by extreme weather and heavy storms.

This compares to fewer than 20 in the United States, which has nearly double the population.

It’s a heavy burden for the South Asian nation and for many people, including Mamun, who is speaking out for the first time about what happened on that August day in 2021.

The 21-year-old was getting ready at his in-laws’ house in the Shibganj area of the country’s northwestern region when he heard the crackle of thunder.

He rushed to his family, only to find a scene of chaos and confusion.

“Some people were hugging the bodies,” Mamun recalls, “and the injured were screaming in pain… The children were yelling. I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t even decide who to visit first.”

Bangladesh

Mamun’s father, grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts were all killed. His mother was not on the boat and escaped the lightning strike.

“I burst into tears when I discovered my father’s dead body.” “I was so shocked that I became ill,” Mamun says.

Later that evening, his relatives’ funerals were held, and the wedding feast they were supposed to enjoy was instead distributed to the homeless.

Mamun later married, but he refuses to celebrate his wedding anniversary because it brings back painful memories. “After the tragic incident, now I am really scared of rain and thunder.”

Lightning is a major killer in Bangladesh, killing more people each year than floods.

Lightening

The number of reported lightning deaths has also increased dramatically, from a few dozen per year in the 1990s to hundreds today.

The increase in deadly strikes is being blamed on increased storminess caused by climate change, according to NASA, the UN, and the government of Bangladesh.

“Global warming, environmental changes, and changing lifestyles are all contributing factors to the rising death toll from lightning,” Md Mijanur Rahman, director general of Bangladesh’s disaster management division, told the BBC.

The government has added lightning strikes to the official list of natural disasters that the country faces, which also include floods, cyclones, earthquakes, and droughts.

A football shirt hung on a rickety fence overlooking a field in Bangladesh’s Satkhira region is a poignant reminder of one of the victims.

Abdullah had worn the shirt just days before as he went into the vast rice fields to do his day’s work.

The Barcelona football shirt is now burned and frayed, draped over the wooden barrier, the burnt edges of thread showing where the lightning struck in May of this year.

Rehana, Abdullah’s wife of three decades, took me to the field to tell me what happened the day her husband died.

The day Abdullah and a group of farmers went to harvest rice was bright and sunny. A heavy storm began late in the afternoon, and a lightning bolt struck her husband.

“Some of the other farmers brought him to this roadside shop,” Rehana explains, pointing to a small shack on the lane. “By then he was already dead.”

Husband

Back at Rehana’s, the rice Abdullah harvested the day before is piled high outside the small one-room house.

The couple had recently taken out a loan to add a second room to their small house.

Masood, the couple’s 14-year-old son, is reading a book inside. With no primary source of income, Rehana fears she will be saddled with a lifetime of debt and wonders how she will fund his studies.

“The fear gripped me so deeply that now if I see a cloud in the sky, I don’t even dare to let my son go outside anymore,” she says, her eyes welling up with tears.

Lightning is a growing concern in other countries as well, including neighboring India, which has seen an increase in the number of strikes in recent years but a significant decrease in the number of fatalities as a result of several initiatives.

Bangladesh is making efforts to reduce the number of deaths caused by lightning.

Activists argue that more tall trees should be planted in remote rural areas to absorb the impact of the strikes, particularly in areas that have suffered the most from deforestation.

They also advocate for a large-scale program to build lightning shelters so farmers can take shelter, as well as broader early warning systems to warn people about potential storms.

One issue is poor connectivity and low mobile usage in areas where people are most vulnerable.

A lack of awareness is another issue. Many people in the country are unaware of how dangerous lightning can be; few people anywhere in the world expect to be struck by a lightning bolt.

Farmer Ripon Hossen, who was with Abdullah on the day he was killed, had never seen lightning up close until it struck.

“There was a big loud sound, and then I saw lots of flashing lights,” he said. “It was as if a fire disk had fallen on us.” I felt a strong electric shock and collapsed to the ground.

“After a while, I opened my eyes and saw that Abdullah was dead.”

Ripon can’t believe he made it. He claims to be terrified of working in the open, but farming is his only source of income in this impoverished agricultural area.

“I cry whenever I think of my friend Abdullah,” he said.

“Everything from that day comes back to me like a flashback when I close my eyes at night.” “I’m at a loss for words.”

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