OPEN AIR ACTIVITIES CARRY THE HIGHEST RISK OF LIGHTNING
DEATH AND INJURY
The incident mentioned in the Lead Story this month reminds us of the high risk posed by open air activities in agriculture, roadside markets, ceremonies, and other activities. Five people were killed by a single lightning strike while harvesting cassava from their garden. A sixth was taken to a hospital with serious injuries according to a post from civil society workers in North Kivu province of DRC.
Most economic activity in sub-Saharan Africa is conducted in the open-air which is always dangerous when thunderstorms are in the area. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is one of the epicenters for lightning hazards because it has the highest lightning flash density (amount of lightning strikes per square kilometer per year) in Africa.
The twin factors of open air activity and high lightning flash density need to be well understood by policy makers for effective public safety response and messaging.
Unfortunately, public education messages like ‘When thunder roars, go indoors,’ which have been proven effective in North America, are unlikely to work in Africa because there are no safe structures to 'go' to, particularly in rural areas.
The most widely respected and utilized international standard of lightning protection is from the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 62305). Unfortunately, most African nations have not embraced IEC standardization. Even those who have adopted it may not enforce compliance with these standards.
At ACLENet, our all volunteer Lightning Protection Working Group
has five members who serve on IEC working groups. We hope the challenges
they have seen in protecting schools in Uganda will foster inclusion of solutions in the IEC standards as they are continuously improved and revised. Perhaps when standards address more of the issues faced in sub-Saharan Africa, more countries will adopt and enforce it.