More Cambodians die from lightning than landmines

Other News Materials 15 September 2008 09:53 (UTC +04:00)

Often armed with little more than a sprig of mistletoe and some magic words to ward off lightning, superstitious Cambodian farmers annually venture into flat, flooded rice paddies to work, and each year dozens get struck dead, officials said Monday, reported dpa.

The problem is so bad that for the past two years at least, lightning has killed far more Cambodians than landmines, despite it remaining one of the most heavily mined nations in the world.

According to official statistics quoted in the English-language Cambodia Daily Monday, 77 people have died from lightning strikes so far this year compared to nine landmine deaths through to July. In 2007 the paper said lightning killed 45 Cambodians and landmines claimed 26 lives.

Bu Ky, a farmer in central Kampong Thom province, said lightning is a constant fear, but most locals have little knowledge about why it strikes. Victims are often stigmatized as having "bad karma."

"More than 60 per cent of farmers here believe a necklace blessed with magic words will protect them," he said. "Mistletoe is a very popular lightning charm." The majority of Cambodia's population of 13.4 million farm.

Director of the Cambodian Meteorology Department, Long Savuth, said a lack of funding and plain ignorance was also a problem.

Last year the department found funds to print a scant 8,000 copies of a leaflet educating farmers about lightning dangers, but then found it lacked the money to distribute them.

By comparison, aggressive landmine awareness campaigns by the government and international aid groups mean few Khmers are ignorant of that danger, but still lack awareness of the natural danger of lightning.

"If someone is struck by lightning, people believe covering them with a white cloth will cure them. Of course CPR would be better, but nobody knows how to do it or even what it is," Savuth said. "Everyone thinks about landmines. Few donors think about lightning."