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Lightning Protection Out of Reach for Many at Risk

At his store on Kampuchea Krom Blvd. in Phnom Penh, Liu Meng seems busy with customers, as he introduces them to lightning protection measures and warns them against the dangers of strikes.

The need for protection is increasing, he tells his customers, and the dangers of lightning are growing.

It is true that Cambodia has seen an increase in deaths due to lightning. A July report from the National Committee for Disaster Management noted that strikes have killed at least 350 people in the last three years.

And there are at least five companies like Liu Meng’s that sell systems capable of drawing a lightning strike and safely grounding it.

However, such a system can cost between $950 and $2,500. That puts protection out of reach for many poor or rural Cambodians—those who are most at risk.

“I know about the lighting system that is being used to protect people from lighting, but on behalf of farmers, I say I don’t have the ability to buy it,” said farmer Um Ngoy, who lives in Kandal Sreng district, Kandal province.

The high cost of the systems mean they are generally installed for the well-off, in places like new villas.

That means people like motorcycle taxi driver Sok Sovannara, who plies the streets of Phnom Penh looking for fares, remain in danger. Lightning incidents are “terrible,” he told VOA Khmer, but without money to buy protection, he would stay at risk.

That might not have to be so, said Prach Meanith, who imports lightning protection equipment for a company in Phnom Penh. Farmers can pool their money together to protect certain areas of a village, he said.

For people like Kong Cheak, a Phnom Penh resident who recently bought a protection system, the costs are worth it. It can protect his life and the life of his family, he said.

Heng Po, a lightning protection expert, said the trend is catching on in the provinces, especially in Battambang, Kampong Cham and Preah Sihanouk.

A person who fears a lightning strike can also protect himself the old fashioned way.

Lightning generally occurs at the beginning of the rainy season, or in unexpected storms, said Keo Vy, chief of the National Committee for Disaster Management.

When such storms occur, people should stay inside and avoid any large trees at a distance of at least 4 meters, he said. Those in vehicles should stop their cars and take their hands off the steering wheel.

And for farmers caught in the fields, he said: lie down, lower than a paddy dike.