Lightning strike on school kills 20 in Uganda

Thu, Jun 30, 2011, 01:00

LIGHTNING HAS killed 19 students and their teacher at a primary school in western Uganda, police said yesterday.

At least 38 others were injured when lightning hit Runyanya primary school in Kiryandongo district, about 160km (99 miles) northwest of Kampala.

The police did not give an official number of how many had died but reports suggest the death toll from such lightning strikes now stands at 34 in recent weeks.

Unseasonal heavy rainstorms have continued to cause havoc across the country.

The Daily Monitornewspaper reported that a boy was killed in a classroom in Karamoja in the northeast of the country on Tuesday, while 37 children and two teachers were wounded in another strike at a school in Paidha near the Congolese border.

MPs and officials at the Ugandan Meteorology Commission said school buildings were adversely affected by the strikes because they don’t have lightning conductors. But some experts blamed the rise in deaths on extreme weather events due to climate change.

“Climate variability often includes an increase in extreme weather events, which is what we are seeing now across the whole of east Africa” said Charles Basalirwa, a meteorologist and head of the department of geography at Makerere University. “We have never seen this many lightning strikes in Uganda, but the current drought is exacerbating the problem.”

Hot surface temperatures have led to warm air rising and forming the clouds that cause lightning and thunderstorms.

East Africa is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years, the UN said this week, with grain prices in some parts of Kenya up to 80 per cent higher than the five-year average.

The price of grain in one Somali district has risen by 240 per cent, forcing people to leave their homes in search of food. Twenty thousand Somalis have arrived at Kenya’s overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp in the past two weeks alone, aid agencies said, many suffering from malnutrition.

Although Uganda has one of the highest rates of strike deaths in the world, Ugandan lawmakers on Monday demanded that the government issue a statement and form a strategy to deal with what several called a crisis.

“I don’t know which minister is in charge of the lightning. But let the government come up with a statement to inform the country on what is going on and how we can manage it,” speaker Rebecca Kadaga said.