By Sana Jamal (Tribune International Report)

Pakistan’s southern Sindh province has been struck by a deadly heatwave where the death toll has reached over 700. Majority of deaths occurred in Karachi city, Pakistan’s financial heart.

Senior provincial health official Saeed Mangnejo fear the number of fatalities might climb further.

The death toll from a heat wave in southern Pakistan has risen over the past three days, and hospitals are overflowing. Power outages in Pakistan have worsened the problem, shutting down water supplies, during the first days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Pakistan’s largest charity, Edhi Welfare Organisation, said their two morgues in the city had received more than 400 corpses. “More than 400 dead bodies have so far been received in our two mortuaries in past three days,” Edhi spokesman Anwar Kazmi told AFP. “The mortuaries have reached capacity.”

Semi Jamali, a doctor at Karachi’s largest hospital, said they had treated about 3,000 patients. “More than 200 of them were either received dead or died in hospital,” said. Another 67 people died in the civil hospital, according to an official.

Hundreds of others remained under treatment in various hospitals across the city, with the government declaring a state of medical emergency. Dr. Salma Kauser, senior director for medical and health at the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), told Dawn that more than 400 people were undergoing treatment at KMC-run hospitals.

Temperature soared to 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) on Saturday and hovered at 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit) on Sunday, coinciding with a surge of demand for power as families observed Ramadan, when Muslims fast during daylight hours.

Government hospitals are struggling to cope with people streaming in with symptoms of heat exhaustion and unannounced “load shedding” or power cuts have given little respite from the scorching weather. The heatwave has also come in Ramadan when Muslims fast during the day.

Outraged citizens take to streets and Social Media to protest the government’s handling of the crisis

The outages hit large portions of Karachi city, home to 20 million people, where residents lit bonfires in protest.

Repeated power outages coupled with unbearable heat infuriated citizens staging protests against the government in several parts of the city. Protesters clashed with police, burning tires and stoning police vehicles, according to local news media. To show solidarity with Karachi city, Pakistani netizens sent over 3,000 tweets on Monday with the hashtag #KarachiWeepsGovtSleeps, according to Vocativ.

“It is tragic that people are dying. If this can happen to Karachi, the commercial hub of Pakistan that generates most of the country’s income, what are the prospects for other, smaller cities? asked Amjad Iqbal Amjad, a businessman.

A spokesman for the Edhi Foundation,  world’s largest ambulance service and country’s biggest social welfare organization, said Edhi’s morgue was struggling to accommodate the increasing number of heat-wave victims and had to refuse many families because of lack of space at the center. With mortuary space running out, bodies were stacked inside of cold storage rooms in morgues, Pakistani TV showed.

 

Water is distributed to people on a roadside in Karachi. Photograph: Rehan Khan/EPA

Water is distributed to people on a roadside in Karachi. Photograph: Rehan Khan/EPA

Heat stroke centers set up

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has ordered the National Disaster Management Authority to take immediate emergency action after the huge number of deaths. The army has also set up heatstroke centres and is aiding the national authority.

heat stroke treatment centers were being established across the province.

Dr. Nadeemuddin Siddiqui, of the Karachi Health Care Hospital, identified heat stroke as a major cause of death.

“Heat stroke affects the heart, brain, kidneys and other vital organs,” said Siddiqui. “The patient feels nausea, confusion and slips into a coma. If that’s what happens, recovery is very difficult. This is what’s happened in Karachi, where so many people have died.” Many of the victims are laborers who work in the sun.

Vulnerable people should avoid fasting

The heat wave – said to be the worst in a decade – has come during Ramadan, when healthy adult Muslims are expected to refrain from eating food and drinking liquids. Some religious scholars are advising people at risk, especially kids and old, should abstain from fasting. Patients and travelers who are not able to bear fasting can delay it and those who are weak or old should abstain.