Deaths mount as Pakistan swelters in heatwave

By Caroline Davies, Pakistan correspondent for BBC News

As the temperatures rose in southern Pakistan, so did the body count.

The Edhi ambulance service says it usually takes around 30 to 40 people to the Karachi city morgue daily.

But over the last six days, it has collected some 568 bodies – 141 of them on Tuesday alone.

It is too early to say exactly what the cause of death was in every case.

However, the rising numbers of dead came as temperatures in Karachi soared above 40degC, with the high humidity making it feel as hot as 49C, reports said.

People have been heading to hospitals seeking help.

A volunteer sprays water on a bypasser's face along a street during a hot summer day in Karachi on May 30, 2024, amid the ongoing heatwave. (Photo by Asif HASSAN / AFP)

Civil Hospital Karachi admitted 267 people with heatstroke between Sunday and Wednesday, said Dr Imran Sarwar Sheikh, head of the emergency department. Twelve of them died.

“Most of the people who we saw coming into the hospital were in their 60s or 70s, although there were some around 45 and even a couple in their 20s,” Dr Sheikh told the BBC.

Symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea and a high fever.

“Many of those we saw had been working outside. We’ve told them to make sure they drink plenty of water and wear light clothes in these high temperatures.”

A labourer pulls a hand cart carrying empty water bottles on a hot summer day at a market in Rawalpindi on June 12, 2024 amid heatwave. (Photo by Farooq NAEEM / AFP)

The high temperatures – described as a “partial heatwave” by one meteorologist – began at the weekend.

Heatwave centres and camps were set up to try to provide relief to the public.

Pictures showed children playing in fountains as they tried to cool off.

“Look at me! My clothes are totally drenched in sweat,” Mohammad Imran told Reuters news agency as he struggled to keep cool on Monday.

Not all those who needed help made it to hospital.

Wasim Ahmed knew he wasn’t feeling well when he arrived home.

The 56-year-old security guard had just finished a 12-hour overnight shift outside. Even then, he had found the temperatures too much.

“He came through the door and said I can’t deal with this hot weather,” Adnan Zafar, Wasim’s cousin, told the BBC. “He asked for a glass of water. Soon after he finished it, he collapsed.”

By the time Wasim’s family got him to hospital, the medics said he had already died of a suspected heart attack.

He had an existing heart condition, Adnan said, but he hadn’t suffered in the heat before.

Karachi’s struggle to cope with the high temperatures was, some feared, being made worse by regular power cuts which cut off the fans and air conditioning many relied on to keep cool.

Muhammad Amin was among those who was suffering with loadshedding – where the electricity supply was cut off; a common practice across Pakistan by the electricity board to try to preserve supply.

His relative said their flat experienced consistent constant power cuts.

According to his family, Muhammad who was in his 40s suddenly became sick, then died.

Cause of death has not been established, but his family suspect it was heat-related.

According to Dawn newspaper, almost 30 people have been found dead by emergency services on the city’s streets.

Many were suspected drug addicts, police surgeon Summaiya Syed told the newspaper. They did not, however, have any signs of injury.

Karachi is not the only part of Pakistan that is struggling to cope.

Last month, the province of Sindh – of which Karachi is the capital – recorded an almost record-breaking temperature of 52.2C, according to Reuters.

Pakistan’s neighbours have been suffering from extreme, deadly temperatures in recent weeks as well.

Across the border in India, the capital Delhi has been enduring an “unprecedented” heatwave, with daily temperatures crossing 40C since May, peaking at nearly 50C.

Doctors in the city said they’ve never seen anything like it before.

For Karachi resident Mohammad Zeshan, it was clear what the problem was.

“This is due to climate change,” he told Reuters. “This is happening all around the world. This is happening in Europe. They have faced intense heat but they have taken steps about it.

“But here, it is sad that government has not taken any effective measures.”

Experts agreed these sorts of extreme weather events were becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.

The heatwave roasting Karachi is expected to last into next week, albeit with slightly lower temperatures forecast.

Weather experts are now turning their attention to the monsoon season, which is expected to arrive early and bring as much as 60 percent more rain, according to experts who spoke to Dawn.

This story was first published by the BBC.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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