Dozens feared killed in Karachi heat wave

Residents cool off from the heat wave, as they are sprayed with water jetting out from a leaking water pipeline in Karachi, Pakistan, on Tuesday. — Reuters

KARACHI, Pakistan — Dozens of people are feared to have died in a heat wave gripping Pakistan’s largest city Karachi this week, a charity in the sprawling metropolis said Tuesday, as temperatures hit 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit).

The non-profit Edhi Foundation said scores may have been killed by the sweltering weather, with double the usual number of bodies sent to the city’s morgues in recent days.

“We have received 180 dead bodies in the last four days which is more than double of what we receive normally,” said Faisal Edhi, head of the welfare organization which oversees a variety of public health projects — including morgues and ambulance services.

“The majority of these were sudden deaths because of the heat wave as claimed by their relatives, which we cannot independently verify.”

The provincial government in Sindh province disputed the estimate.

“Only one casualty has been reported due to heat stroke so far,” said Muhammad Ali Shaikh, director of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority in Sindh said.

The heat wave coincides with the beginning of Ramadan, when millions of devout Pakistanis abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.

The Pakistan Meteorological Department warned “hot to very hot weather is likely to prevail in Karachi during next 2-3 days”, forecasting highs of 44 degrees Celsius during the period.

Aamir Habib, from Karachi’s Korangi, said his brother was among the dead and had been rushed to the hospital after collapsing at work on Monday.

“The doctors said he died because of heat stroke,” Habib said.

The mega port city, capital of southern Sindh province, is hit by frequent power cuts and has few green spaces.

People living on its crowded streets have little access to shelter or safe drinking water, making them acutely at risk in blistering temperatures.

In June 2015 about 1,200 people died in southern Pakistan during a heat wave, with nearly two-thirds of the victims homeless people.

The Edhi morgue had run out of freezer space after about 650 bodies were brought in the space of a few days. Ambulances had left decaying corpses outside in sweltering heat.

The provincial government had then assured residents that there would be no repeat of 2015 and was working on ensuring those in need of care receive rapid treatment.

Edhi said most of the dead brought to the morgue were working class factory workers who came from the low-income Landhi and Korangi areas of Karachi.

“They work around heaters and boilers in textile factories and there is eight to nine hours of (scheduled power outages) in these areas,” he said.

Temperatures are expected to stay above 40C until Thursday, local media reported. — Agencies