Police reported Thursday that seven more people have been killed by lightning in India's northern Uttar Pradesh state, raising the state's lightning-related death toll to 49 just this week.
The farmers had taken shelter under trees during a drenching monsoon rain when they were struck by lightning Tuesday and died instantly. The victims included four members of a family and some cattle grazers near the city of Kaushambi, according to police officer Hem Raj Meena.
The high death toll has prompted the government to issue new guidelines for how people can protect themselves during a lightning storm, said state government spokesperson Shishir Singh.
"People are dying more from lightning than rain-related incidents, though this is the time when people (typically) die of floods or other rain-related incidents,” Singh said.
India's monsoon season runs from June through September.
Col. Sanjay Srivastava, whose organization Lightning India Resilient Campaign works with the Indian Meteorological Department, said lightning has killed nearly 750 people across India since April. That includes 20 people who died in eastern Bihar state in the past two days and 16 in Madhya Pradesh state in central India earlier this month.
Sunita Narain, director-general of the Center for Science and Environment, said global warming plays a role in the rising number of lightning strikes. A one-degree-Celsius rise in temperature increases lightning by 12 times.
Srivastava said that deforestation, the depletion of bodies of water, and pollution all contribute to climate change, which leads to more lightning.
J.P. Gupta, director of the Meteorological Department, said thunderstorms and lightning have increased this year due to an increase in pollution levels.
"High ground temperature leads to evaporation from water bodies that adds moisture to the atmosphere. The presence of aerosols due to air pollution creates favorable conditions for thunderclouds to trigger lightning activity,” Gupta said.
More than 200 people have been killed in heavy downpours and mudslides in Indian states including Assam, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim, while 42 people have died in Bangladesh since May 17. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in the monsoon season.