Pakistan authorities trade blame as heatwave deaths exceed 800BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h3477 (Published 25 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3477
Pakistan has declared a state of emergency as the death toll from an unprecedented heatwave exceeded 800. The declaration came amid criticism of the country’s management of the crisis and power failures that had prevented people from using water pumps, electric fans, and air conditioning.
Temperatures reached 44°C in the past week, which coincided with Ramadan, the holy month during which Muslims are required to fast daily until sundown. Most of those who have died were elderly people, poor people, and labourers who worked outdoors, prompting religious leaders to encourage those at risk of heatstroke not to fast.
Farooq Dar, of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, told TIME magazine that the present heatwave was “unprecedented. It has never been this bad.”1 However, cooler temperatures are expected by the weekend.
The majority of casualties so far have been in Karachi, a city of 20 million people in the south of Pakistan. Hospitals in the city are struggling to cope with the thousands of people affected, and the army has set up special heatstroke centres to help deal with the situation.
Federal officials blamed local authorities in Karachi for power and water shortages that were exacerbating the suffering caused by the heatwave, whereas the head of the National Disaster Management Authority in Sindh province told the Associated Press that climate change was to blame for the extreme weather. “People never expected this sort of heat could come, so they were not prepared for it,” he said.2
The local electricity provider, meanwhile, said that the federal and provincial governments owed it more than $1bn (£0.6bn; €0.9bn) in unpaid bills.3
Local non-governmental organisations criticised Pakistan’s lack of preparedness. Zahid Farooq, from the Urban Resource Center in Karachi, told the New York Times that the heatwave had exposed Karachi’s structural flaws and lack of a reliable disaster management system.4
“Sadly, there are not enough beds in hospitals, no space in morgues and graveyards, and no emergency response,” he said. “The heatwave was not man made, but providing proper medical treatment and drinking water could minimise the casualties.”
Other countries in South Asia have also been hit by heat this year. Last month extremely high temperatures killed more than 2000 people in India.
Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3477