LIGHTNING TRAGEDY AT THE FAMILY LEVEL
Earlier this month, September 2021, the Monitor newspaper published an article on lightning safety by Esther Oluka which touched on different aspects of the lightning hazard and quoted several professionals in the promotion of lightning safety. This pioneering article wen
t beyond the usual outcry for action by local media after specific lightning incidents and should be applauded as valuable public education aimed at injury prevention instead of disaster response.
It is a big step in the right direction.
The lightning hazard permeates communities across sub-Saharan Africa. While every lightning injury and death is a tragedy to that person's family, in much of Africa, entire families can be killed by one strike. Unfortunately, September has brought us several reports of family tragedies:
In Uganda, five people belonging to the same family died from a lightning strike
in early September.
In Angola’s Bié province, five people, including four from the same family,
were killed by lightning according to the local civil protection and fire service.
In Tanzania, four people, a couple and their two children,
were killed by lightning as they slept.
As this column has discussed before, these tragedies can be fuel for multiple conspiracy theories, most of which increase the risk of lightning injury because of fanning beliefs lacking in scientific knowledge -- If people believe that lightning deaths are inevitable and beyond their control, any move to educate and change behavior to prevent injuries can be seen as futile.
We need to change this!
It is very difficult to comfort or teach people who are in the midst of grief for the their lost dear ones. After such incidents, survivors can quickly yield to traditional beliefs because of lack of knowledge and solutions on how to prevent the tragedies that befell them.
At ACLENet, we believe that reliable, practical public safety education should come before lightning strikes instead of after deaths and family tragedies have occurred. Leaders at all levels who are concerned with Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) should take up the responsibility of educating the general public on lightning safety and injury prevention.
We are finalizing a Memorandum of Understanding with Government of Uganda (GoU), after many hiccups, and hope to influence the Ministry and Departments responsible for DRR to concentrate on prevention and preparedness instead of only response. We look forward to working with many professionals in Uganda and the media to bring about this public education.
Together, we can work to reduce the number of deaths, injuries, and property damage due to lightning across Africa.