An uninvited guest: Karachi’s Heatwave

KARACHI, Pakistan -The devastating heatwave has taken a toll of over 1200 and has overwhelmed the city with panic which is persisting through it. With the temperatures soaring to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) Imaan Faruqui discusses the impact on the health care system ;  stunned by this tragedy as they were underprepared for it.

This was not only a record breaking temperature but took place on the second day of Ramadan. During this period, eating and drinking in public is prohibited from dawn until dusk. As one can imagine, fasting in itself puts a strain on one’s body but this sweltering weather increased the pressure on Pakistanis foregoing food and water.

©U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons License

©U.S. Embassy Pakistan/Creative Commons License

With multiple failures in the power gird being observed all across Karachi tackling the heat was done with no electricity and water- although there was a clear distinction between rich and poor: with affluent areas not impacted by the power grid failures unlike the low-income areas who are facing prolonged and unannounced power outages.

The Majority of the public and politicians were quick to place the blame on electricity outages as the main cause for the heatwave. But the truth is that Climate Change has arrived, and it’s here to stay, but people are reluctant to believe so, since they do not believe that it is the core factor contributing to the cause of the heatwave.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, With the Sindh government focusing on electricity as the main cause behind the deaths, and not enough on measures that more directly deal with the cause of the deaths. The majority of the 65,000 heatwave victms have ended up in Karachi’s poorly run, neglected and under-financed government hospitals, and majority of these victims do not receive immediate medical attention in these over-crowded hospitals.

Due to the lack of immediate government intervention Karachi is at a state of chaos where the citizens are now standing in and volunteering and lending a helping hand in places where the administration has been too slow to act. Regardless, with the pre-existing problems with electricity there is not enough attention to the elephant in the room. That elephant being Climate Change.

Each year there are records being broken for the hottest month or the warmest year globally and there are so many factors which contribute towards this.  Asif Shuja, the former director of the Pakistan environmental protection agency stated that “there has been a rise in the Earth’s average temperature from 15.5°C to 16.2°C over the last 100 years due to which we are experiencing such extreme weather conditions both in summers and winters.

The rapid expansion in urbanisation, deforestation, and the multiplication of private vehicles are helping to fuel this fire. But if the problems have been identified why are the government and individuals acting so slowly in taking measures to halt this?

©Farhan Chawla/Creative Commons License

©Farhan Chawla/Creative Commons License

The dilemma is that, these initiatives such as installing new air conditioners and bulk distribution of bottled water may be causing temporary relief for the heatwave victims but is also harming the environment in the long run. In order to make this sustainable there is a need for funds to educate the public on these issues, and developing countries such as Pakistan do not possess these lucrative funds. Which leave them to be the most vulnerable to Climate Change.

Scientists in the region say “climate change has certainly intensified heatwaves in the same way it has accelerated other extreme weather events including floods, droughts, and wildfires, among others”. It is very difficult for developing countries to take urgent action when they do not have the material capacities to do so.

The Edhi foundation which runs a private and largest ambulance network in Pakistan is left overburdened. The morgue, which has a capacity of 200, is working extensively since the heatwave and have been pushed towards quick burials due to the conditions of the body and the morgue losing all of its cooling functions as it was being over burdened with the current capacity. This is the sad reality which we are facing that there are not enough cold storage areas, and funeral vans that bodies need to be transported in food trucks.

Nobody is immune to climate change, especially the poor as they will be suffering the most, unless governments start acting now. By creating an urgency on the issue, adopting measures and implementing afforestation schemes will help in sustaining a cooler future rather than an unpleasant one, and, for obvious environmental reasons, turning towards air conditioners would not be the solution to this impending problem.

Dr Pervaiz Amir, a well-known environmentalist has argued that “it was high time that we urgently focus on extensive tree plantation with provision for adaptation centres for both citizens and the animals in Karachi and other parts of the country”. This is a great opportunity to get everyone involved by promoting awareness on the concerns of climate change, and by creating more job prospects available to those in the low-income neighbourhoods.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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