June 2015 – KARACHI, Pakistan — Karachi’s poor learned long ago to cope with the many adversities that afflict Pakistan’s most crowded and chaotic city, including flooding, street violence and political crises. But since a suffocating heat wave descended on Karachi three days ago, killing at least 770 people, they have found no respite and no escape. “It’s so hot,” said a security guard, Shamim ur-Rehman, 34, as he sat on a cot, beleaguered. “There is no fan, there is nothing. I can’t sleep at night or during the day.”
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared an emergency on Tuesday as the death toll from the heat wave soared, with overwhelmed hospitals struggling to treat a surge of casualties and morgues filling to capacity. The army set up emergency treatment centers in the streets and the provincial government closed schools and city offices. The Edhi Foundation, which runs an ambulance service and Karachi’s largest morgue, said it had collected over 600 bodies in recent days. “The first to die were the people on the streets — heroin addicts, beggars, the homeless,” said Anwar Kazmi, a spokesman for the service. “Then it was the elderly, particularly those who didn’t have anyone to take care of them.”
In many ways, the emergency is the product of a perfect storm of meteorological, political and religious factors in Karachi. Chronic shortages of water and electricity have exacerbated the impact of the heat wave, which has brought temperatures up to 45 Celsius, or 113 degrees Fahrenheit, in a crowded city of 20 million people that is normally ventilated by a sea breeze. The health dangers are further exacerbated by the demands of the annual Ramadan fast, when most Muslims abstain from eating or drinking water during daylight hours. In Karachi, that means about 15 hours with no source of hydration — a factor that has particularly affected manual laborers and street vendors, who work outside under the sun.
Dr. Seemin Jamali, head of Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center emergency wing, said 272 people had died there from heat-related conditions, including dehydration. The smaller Abbasi Shaheed Hospital said 56 bodies had been brought in since Monday night. Officials said a majority of the victims were men over the age of 50, especially day laborers from lower-income groups. Although Karachi residents are used to dealing with other emergencies — stockpiling groceries, for example, during bouts of street violence — they seemed at a loss for how to manage the extended heat wave. The electricity shortages are the product of decades-long mismanagement of Pakistan’s national grid, and are often worse at dusk when many people are cooking in preparation for the end of the fast. Not only do the power cuts make air-conditioning units and ceiling fans useless — they also reduce the water supply by shutting down pumps. Ice is in short supply and being sold for a premium in many neighborhoods.
“People are screaming at us on our helpline to get help them, and when we do, they fight to get on the ambulance,” he said. More opposition parties, including the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi movement, are blaming the federal government for the crisis, which they say has been compounded by massive power cuts all across Sindh province. Dildar Shah lives in the Karachi suburb on Malir and has lost two neighbors to the extreme conditions. “This is like the Day of Judgment,” he said. “It seems all of us will die in this heat together.” –NY Times NBC
Death toll soars: The sweltering heat wave in Pakistan has claimed up to 1,011 lives with at least 229 fatalities reported on Wednesday by the government and private hospitals. Local morgues are full. The heat wave in the city of 20 million people coincided with severe electricity cuts, leaving many without fans, water or light, and the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, when many Muslims do not eat or drink during daylight hours. Some shops have refused to sell ice or water during the day, citing religious laws that mean they can be fined. It is also illegal to eat or drink in public from dawn to dusk. An influx of bodies into the morgues has forced medical officials to store bodies in body bags on the floor, said Anwar Kazmi, a senior official of the charitable organization the Edhi Foundation. Air conditioning units at the morgue have stopped working.
The provincial government had done little except try to blame others, he said.According to Dawn News, around 40,000 people have suffered a heat stroke and 7,500 of them were being treated in the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), said officials. The provincial government of Sindh has imposed a state of emergency at all hospitals and cancelled the leave for doctors. The government also increased stocks of medical supplies at hospitals. –Financial Express, Independent