Pakistan: Heatwave death toll tops 1,400

Pakistan Heatwave death toll tops
Local and federal authorities blame each other for increasing number of deaths

There has been no let-up in deaths caused by a blistering heatwave which has gripped Pakistan’s southern Sindh province for over a week, with Sunday’s death toll topping 1,400.

According to the director-general of Sindh’s health department, Hasan Murad, almost 1,200 people have died of heatstroke and other related diseases in the coastal city of Karachi since June 20.

Over 200 people have also died in interior districts of Sindh, Provincial Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said earlier this week. An anonymous senior health official told Anadolu Agency that the actual death toll could be higher as hundreds of fatalities in remote districts have gone unreported.

“The figures reported by the media are from major hospitals”, he said.

Most of the victims, according to hospital officials, were laborers from the far north and homeless people who could not cope with the intensity of the heatwave.

This was vindicated by the Edhi Foundation, a health NGO, which received over 200 unclaimed bodies in Karachi since June 20.

Faisal Edhi, the Edhi Foundation’s operations chief, told reporters Saturday that 140 unclaimed bodies were buried in mass graves, while 60 were still lying at the NGO’s mortuary awaiting identification.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) expects a decrease in current heatwave from Monday due to southwesterly winds.

However, environmentalists and weather experts have reacted with caution to claims by Pakistan’s environment minister that newly built power plants in neighboring India were to blame for the extreme heat.

Mushaidullah Khan told a seminar in capital Islamabad earlier this week that the power plants in the nearby Indian state of Rajhistan were responsible for the ongoing heatwave.

“It is premature to say anything like that until unless scientific research is there to prove it,” said Nasir Panhwar, a Karachi-based environmentalist, adding: “Politicians have their own way to assert and blame. But as an environmentalist, we cannot act like that.” 

Abdul Rasheed, a PMD spokesman, agrees. Speaking to Anadolu Agency, he said: “It is not appropriate to to blame [Indian power plants] without having any cogent scientific reason. That’s why it will be early to confirm that, in my opinion.”

‘Blame game’

With hospitals facing difficulties in accommodating incoming heatstroke patients, rival federal and provincial governments are engaged in a blame game, trying to pin the responsibility for such a huge number of deaths on each other.

The Sindh government blames the federal water and power ministry for long power cuts, citing this as a reason for half of the deaths.

The federal government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accuses the Pakistan Peoples Party administration in Sindh of not taking adequate health measures to save the lives of hundreds of victims.