A massive thunderbolt in Nepal’s remote Jumla district on Sunday killed at least 500 sheep grazing in pastures high in the mountains, according to belated reports from the remote mountain region of northwestern Nepal.
The lightning struck during a monsoon storm on 23 August in Masimarema grazing land of Patrasi Rural Municipality and the sheep belonged to Bishnu Buda and Jaya Bahadur Buda of the Bagjalem Community Forest.
Because of the remoteness of the area, villagers have not been able to reach the site yet, said Ward Chair Kali Bahadur Rawat. The high pasture is the traditional grazing ground for the region’s livestock and dairy farmers during the monsoon months.
Jumla’s chief district administrator Tek Bahadur Budathapa said the lightning strike was a major blow to the villagers of Patrasi whose main source of income is their livestock, and the sheep were being readied for sale during the Dasain festival in October.
“The farmers were already hit by the economic crisis caused by the lockdown, and now this has happened, it is going to be difficult for them to survive and the government will do what it can to provide rehabilitation,” Budathapa said.
This is the second worst disaster to hit the district’s animal husbandry in recent years. In 2013, more than 700 sheep were killed in winter blizzards.
With nearly 900 human fatalities in the past ten years, lightning accounts for the highest number of deaths in natural disasters – second only to the 2015 earthquake. Nepal in fact tops the list of countries with the most lightning fatalities per unit area. More people die every year in electric storms in Nepal than in the whole of North America, according to statistics.
Every year, an average of 100 people are killed by thunderbolts, and meteorologists say freak electrical storms are also occurring during unusual times, such as early mornings. Studies have linked the increase in intensity and frequency of thunderstorms to climate change.
Nepal is also the most densely populated mountainous country in the world, and lighting in the mountains are also deadlier because the flashes have to travel less distance. Within Nepal, Makwanpur district south of Kathmandu has the highest death rate from lightning strike with 70 deaths in the past seven years. In the same period, Jumla only had three fatalities from lightning.
Update: District authorities at the Livestock Support Department said on Tuesday that 217 sheep were killed.