At the end of May, more than 90 people had been killed by lightning in Cambodia, matching the death toll reported for all of 2008, according to government officials.
Lightning has claimed the lives of at least 93 Cambodians this year, according to Ly Thuch, second vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, which is the same number of people who were struck dead during all of last year. Mr Thuch acknowledged that the true lightning death figure for this year was likely higher than the official total reported to the committee.
With 93 killed in 2008, lightning strikes outpaced landmines as a cause of death in Cambodia by a factor of more than 10 times. And with nearly six months of rainy season left to go, this year promises to be far more deadly for lightning strikes.
Last week alone, at least five people were struck dead throughout the country—the same number of people who were struck dead during all of last year.
Public-safety information about the dangers of lightning strikes remains scarce despite the mounting death toll, though Mr Thuch said that NCDM officials have visited local authorities to tell them to warn the public about using radios and televisions during rainstorms.
“We send officials to educate villagers to protect themselves from lightning,” he said last week, adding that the NCDM is arranging more village visits and a television spot to increase public awareness.
Government meteorologist Seth Vannareth said her office at the Water Resources Ministry is concerned by the rising reports of fatal lightning strikes. She blamed the growing use of electrical devices in rural areas for the increasing number of accidents.
“Right now, humans are increasing their use of modern equipment like TV, radios and telephones. Those things can attract lightning to humans,” she said.
Kem Gunawadh, director-general of state broadcaster TVK, said Monday his station had begun airing a 2-and-1/2-minute message in the evening telling the public not to shelter under trees and to avoid metal objects during inclement weather. He could not, however, say how often this broadcast would be aired.
Tan Yan, director-general of Radio National of Kampuchea, was also unable to say how often a similar, five- to seven-minute morning broadcast about lightning was airing on state radio.
“In a program, we told them you should not stand under the trees, hold metal, or turn on the TV or radio when it is rainy,” he said.