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Winter second most deadly killer among natural disasters

Government data says winters are the second biggest cause for deaths due to natural disasters in India, next only to lightning. Between 2002 and 2012, as many as 10,740 people died from exposure to cold and avalanche, while lightning claimed 27,338.
By Chetan Chauhan | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 22, 2013 04:16 PM IST

Government data says winters are the second biggest cause for deaths due to natural disasters in India, next only to lightning.



Between 2002 and 2012, as many as 10,740 people died from exposure to cold and avalanche, while lightning claimed 27,338.

On an average, 826 people in India died every year in this period because of harsh winters. An increasing trend in deaths was reported after 2007.

A possible reason could be the cooling trend in winter temperatures in north-western and southern India.

A Central Statistical Organisation (Cso) report, which is based on Indian Meteorological Department’s (Imd’s) temperature data since 1901, said a cooling trend was visible in the two regions.

But, it said surface temperatures needed to be recorded on "long term basis at different climatic zones" to reach a firm conclusion.

IMD data says the minimum temperature in 1901 for India was between 14.16 degrees Celsius and 16.5 degrees Celsuis from October to February, the months when winters prevail in India, especially in the Himalayan region.

In 2012, the minimum temperature ranged from 13.8 degrees Celsius to 16.4 degrees Celsius in the same period.

A look at the recent past shows direct co-relation between fall in minimum temperatures and winter deaths.

As many as 1,037 people died from exposure to cold and avalanche in 2012, when the minimum temperature fell to 13.68 degrees Celsius — lowest since 2001.

Similarly, high deaths were reported in 2008 and 2002, when the minimum temperature for the country fell below 14 degrees Celsius.

"The deaths are higher in plains of India where a large number of poor are not equipped to deal with sweeping wintry conditions emanating from snow-laden peaks in the north," said an Imd official.

There is no national scheme to provide assistance to the state governments to provide warm shelters to the poor during winter months, the official added.

The data made available by the Cso in its report on ‘Statistics Related to Climate Change’ showed that altogether 87,329 people died due to natural disasters between 2000 and 2012.

Around 31% of them died due to lightning, which is not considered a major natural disaster. The third biggest reason are floods, which claimed about 10,533 between 2000 and 2012, the report said.

Nature’s fury

Total deaths (2000-12): 87,329

Major causes

Lightning: 27,338
Cold and avalanche: 10,740
Flood: 10,553
Heat stroke: 5,550
Landslide: 4,285

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