Why lightning strikes affect poor people more

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What Is Lightning?

"Getting struck by lightning": It's how we describe things that are highly unlikely.

But according to the Atlantic, lightning strikes aren't as random as you might think. In fact, they end up skewing toward a specific population: the poor.

The statistics: In the U.S., 0.3 people per million die from lightning strikes per year, according to this paper by meteorologist Ronald Holle. In Canada, the rate is 0.2 per million, and in Australia it's 0.1 per million.

In developing nations, it's a different story. Malawi sees 84 people per million die from lightning strikes each year. Zimbabwe sees up to 21 per million, and Swaziland sees 15.5.

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In India, the annual rate of lightning strike deaths is 2 people per million. When the Atlantic published its story, 79 people in India had died of lightning strikes that week. Many were farmers living in rural areas.

Millions of Americans live in rural areas, according to census data, and yet we don't experience lightning strikes at the rate of folks in India. Why is that?

It's partly to do with "plumbing and tractors," according to the Atlantic. Thanks to modern plumbing and electricity, nearly all of today's homes in the U.S. are equipped to ground lightning when it strikes.

"But in poor areas of the world, homes may not have all those wires and pipes that help divert electrical shock," according to the Atlantic. "Those homes often have a thin roof made of corrugated metal. And if lightning hits that, the bolt can jump to the nearest person."

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17 PHOTOS
Crazy lightning photos - Lightning safety week
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Crazy lightning photos - Lightning safety week
Fingers of lightning illuminate the sky as a summer storm packing high winds and heavy rains sweeps over downtown Denver late Thursday, June 4, 2015. Severe weather has hit in several locations along Colorado's Front Range during the day, prompting forecasters to issue tornado and flood warnings for the night ahead. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
The night sky in Schwangau, southern Germany, is illuminated by lightning during thunderstorms in the late evening of Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Southern Germany was hit by storms last night. ( Jonas Walzberg/dpa via AP)
A lightning bolt strikes down during a storm with the One World Trade Center tower, left, as a backdrop, Wednesday, July 23, 2014, in Jersey City, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
In this photo taken with a fisheye lens, a massive storm cloud packing high winds, hail and heavy rains sweeps over downtown Denver as lightning strikes on the horizon on Monday, July 7, 2014. After a daytime high that reached 100 degree, forecasters predict that heavy thunderstorms will envelop Colorado's Front Range communities through the night. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
In this Monday, Oct. 7, 2013, a bolt of lightning strikes down over Acapulco, Mexico. The Pacific resort city is recovering from the pounding of Tropical Storm Manuel a few weeks ago, that left massive flooding, landslides, rockslides, collapsed bridges and stranding about 40,000 thousands tourists for days. (AP Photo/Bernandino Hernandez)
A lightning illuminates the sky over the Malecon during a lightning storm in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Sept 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Lightning steaks across the sky behind the Young Meadows Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Ala., Monday, March 18, 2013. Strong storms moved across much of Alabama on Monday, bringing hail, high winds, and heavy rainfall as a cold front passed through the state. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
In a Tuesday, May 1, 2012 photo, a double rainbow appears in the sky as lightning strikes during a severe thunderstorm in Hamilton, Ohio. Strong thunderstorms caused multiple lightening strikes in the area. (AP Photo/Steve Vaughn)
Lightning illuminates the sky above the Kibbie Dome and the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. The lightning storm could have sparked new fires in the area Sunday night. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Lightning reveals a large layer of dust in the sky Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011 in Gilbert, Ariz. The dust storm swept through Pinal County and headed northeast, reaching Phoenix at about 6 p.m. It was the third major dust storm to hit the Phoenix metro area since last month. (AP Photo/Matt York)  
Lightning strikes the ground, South of Tyler, Texas on Saturday night, Feb. 14, 2009, as a line of storms crossed over East Texas. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
A lightning strikes over the palm trees during a thunder storm in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, southern Turkey, late Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Kaan Soyturk)
The view from Malibu California as a early morning monsoon storm moving north up the coast created a huge lightning show that could be seen from Orange County to Santa Barbara County. Malibu California Friday August 15,2008. AP/Photo Gene Blevins
Lightning rolls across the sky of Tyler, Texas as powerful thunderstorms stretch across Texas to Tennessee on Monday night, Feb. 5, 2008. (AP Photo/Dr. Scott M. Lieberman)
A lightning strikes over the city of Locarno, Switzerland, during a thunder storm late Sunday, Aug. 8, 2004. (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini)
Lightning bolts flash over downtown Los Angeles early Tuesday morning, Sept. 20, 2005. Up to 20,000 customers experienced power disruptions from an electrical storm that continued to hover over the region Tuesday morning, according to a Southern California Edison official. (AP Photo/Mike Meadows)
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As for tractors, they can provide lightning-safe shelter to farmers working in big, open fields. As this report found, most farmers killed by lightning strikes in developing Asian countries "died working in rice paddy fields, which are often huge tracts of flat and flooded land," according to the Atlantic.

People in developing nations are also more likely to work outdoors, and are therefore more likely to get caught in storms.

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