By Zia ur-Rehman and Salman Masood
June 22, 2015
KARACHI, Pakistan — An intense heat wave has left at least 260 people dead over three days in southern Pakistan, mostly here in the port city of Karachi, officials said Monday, prompting the government to declare an emergency at hospitals and to ask the military to help respond to the crisis.
Unusually high temperatures, reaching up to 111 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43.8 degrees Celsius here, have led to heatstroke, dehydration, stomach-related pains and low blood pressure among residents, hospital officials said. Most of the dead were men 50 and older. Hardest hit were those living in slums and other impoverished neighborhoods in this city of 20 million, Pakistan’s financial and economic hub.
“We are still receiving dead bodies of the people who died of heat and gastro-related problems,” said Dr. Seemi Jamali, the head of the emergency department at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, a state-run hospital.
The provincial government has canceled time off for doctors and other medical staff and increased stocks of medical supplies, health officials said. Hundreds of people were being treated for heat-related illnesses.
Anwar Kazmi, a spokesman for the city’s only morgue, which is run by Edhi Foundation, a nongovernment charity, said families were still bringing bodies there.
“We have buried, unclaimed, 45 bodies to make space in the facility,” he said, adding that many of those victims were elderly or children.
Frequent power failures in several parts of the city made the soaring temperatures even more unbearable, leading to angry protests here. A large number of people spent Sunday night at Karachi’s parks and beaches because of the electricity losses. Local news media reported that the failures also affected the city’s water supply. And the University of Karachi postponed its examinations because of the extreme weather.
Pakistan has experienced a debilitating energy crisis in recent years as successive governments have struggled to cope with a surging demand for power and an aging, heavily strained grid system.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif expressed grief over the weather-related deaths and asked the National Disaster Management Authority to assist in relief efforts. The Pakistan Rangers (Sindh), a paramilitary force that otherwise fights crime in Karachi, has set up 10 heatstroke relief centers across the city.
On Monday, a light rain fell in some parts of Karachi, and meteorologists said that the extreme weather was expected to subside in the coming days.