More than 50 people in Bangladesh have died after being struck by lightning in the last two days, causing panic in the country, according to officials. Experts believe that deforestation and higher temperatures are leading to an increase in lightning strikes.
The victims include two students who were playing football in the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, and a teenage boy who was collecting mangoes. The majority of those killed are farmers working in paddy fields. Dozens more have been injured in the last two days.
Bangladesh is sweltering in a week-long heatwave, with thunderstorms across the country's 14 districts since Thursday, 10 May.
Around 90 people have been killed by lightning since March of this year, compared with a total of 51 for the entire year of 2015. Deaths caused by lightning strikes usually happen in the pre-monsoon season – between March and May.
Pabna police officer Abul Hossain told VOA that the number of people killed in such a short time "has left many people panicking".
Mohammad Riaz Ahmed, head of Bangladesh's disaster management department, said the authorities were concerned with the unusually high number of deaths that have already occurred this year. "We will make all efforts, consulting our scientists and other disaster management experts so that lightning strikes cannot be that big a threat in Bangladesh," he said.
However, more thunderstorms are anticipated by the end of the month. "As we have recorded, the lightning frequency has been increasing gradually since 1981, due to climate variability and increase in temperature. The temperature in the country marked a significant rise this year, which is apparently the cause behind the increased incidents of lightning," said M Abdul Mannan, a meteorology department official in Dhaka.
The decreasing number of trees is also believed to have triggered an increase in the frequency of lightning strikes. "Palm and other taller trees usually attract the lightning flashes. But with these trees becoming scarce in rural areas" people out in the open are more at risk of being hit, Wahr said.
If the number of deaths continues to escalate, Bangladesh could be moving towards calling the event a natural disaster.