Death toll climbing: Pakistan Heat Wave
Published: June 25, 2015
Death toll climbing: Pakistan Heat Wave, The death toll reached 1,000 on Thursday in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi as residents grappled with a devastating heat wave that has crippled life and overwhelmed the health care system.
Searing temperatures, which have been as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, or 45 degrees Celsius, fell below 100 on Thursday, but a sense of panic and crisis persisted in the city, the country’s financial and commercial capital as well as the capital of Sindh Province.
There has been a sharp increase in the sale of air-conditioners and room coolers, local traders said. Morgues have run short of space, and hospitals are filled to capacity as patients scramble to get treatment for dehydration and heatstroke.
The heat wave has sent over 14,000 people into government and private hospitals across Karachi, with more than 8,000 visiting Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, the largest such site here.
Anwar Kazmi, a spokesman for the Edhi Foundation, which runs a private ambulance service and the city’s main morgue, said the group had buried 40 unidentified bodies on Thursday and would bury another 40 later in the day. The morgue, which has a capacity of 200, has been overrun since the heat wave began late last week, and the charity group said it was now looking into expanding the site.
Mr. Kazmi said that quick burials had become unavoidable given the extreme heat and the condition of the bodies. “It has become necessary for us to start burying the bodies because of the bad state we are receiving them in,” he said.
The foundation has buried at least 350 people since the heat wave started. While many of the bodies had been unclaimed, he said, workers were taking photographs before the burials in the event that relatives came forward.
Mr. Kazmi said the Edhi Foundation was putting in place plans to expand the morgue’s capacity to 300. “This situation doesn’t arise often,” he said, “but it’s become necessary now for us to improve.”
Most of the dead, many of them drug addicts and the homeless, have come from the poor areas of the city.
The provincial government has responded to the crisis by urging the residents to save electricity, emphasizing the early closings of schools and institutes, shopping malls and marriage halls. The country has faced a chronic power shortage for years, with daytime outages lasting several hours.
The power outages have not affected everyone equally. Lower-income areas are facing prolonged, unannounced power outages and periods of extremely low voltage, while the situation is relatively better in more affluent areas.
The heat wave has also taken a toll on the city’s pet population. “We are seeing one to two animals every day on average with some sort of heatstroke signs,” said Dr. Isma Gheewala, a veterinarian in the upscale Defence neighborhood, who described animals arriving in a semiconscious state with temperatures of 106 to 107.
“We have heard of many animals who just collapsed and expired due to heatstroke, particularly birds,” Dr. Gheewala said.
For sellers of home appliances, there has been a run on products for cooling and controlling humidity. Sales in Karachi are up by about 25 percent, and prices have climbed.
“We did not see such sale of air-conditioners, room coolers and fans in the past,” said Rizwan Irfan, a leader of Karachi’s electronic traders’ association. “The stocks of these appliances are running out.”
Angered by the continuing power cuts, residents in several parts of the city have organized protests and blocked traffic. Even lawmakers from the province’s governing party staged a protest outside the Sindh Assembly’s building on Wednesday.
Dawn, the country’s leading English-language daily, however, published an editorial on Thursday criticizing the provincial government’s effort to blame the power supply for the high number of deaths, calling that absurd.
“The Sindh government is focusing excessively on electricity as the cause behind the deaths,” the newspaper said, “and not enough on measures that more directly deal with the cause of the deaths.”
The opposition politician Imran Khan also visited Jinnah on Thursday. During the visit, he blamed the provincial and federal governments for failing to provide adequate health care facilities for those affected.
Salman Masood contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.
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