Dozens have died during a sweltering heat wave in Karachi, a southern port city in Pakistan, according to the Edhi Foundation, an organization that runs the city’s morgue. The foundation reports that 114 bodies were brought to their morgue from Saturday through Monday, and attributed 65 of the deaths to heat stroke. The province’s health minister, Fazlullah Pechuho, disputes that report.
Sustained temperatures of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, including upwards of 111 degrees on Monday, caused local authorities to urge people to stay inside and drink water. However, in a majority-Muslim city of 15 million, the heat wave has coincided with Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, in which followers fast from sunrise to sunset. This fasting includes the intake of water.
Additionally, scheduled load-shedding – planned power outages in specific areas designed to reduce the strain on the power grid – has left parts of the city in the dark and without air conditioning for prolonged periods of time, particularly in factory districts. Certain areas have experienced up to seven hours of power loss a day.
According to the Edhi Foundation, many of the reported dead were factory workers, particularly from low income working-class areas. “They work around heaters and boilers in textile factories and there is eight to nine hours of (scheduled power outages) in these areas,” Faisil Edhi, the director of the Edhi Foundation told The Guardian.
Other deaths included the elderly and people with preexisting health conditions.
Despite the Foundation’s stance on the cause behind the deaths – namely heatstroke and dehydration – the province’s health minister, Fazlullah Pechuho, staunchly disagrees.
“Only doctors and hospitals can decide whether the cause of death was heat stroke or not. I categorically reject that people have died due to heat stroke in Karachi,” Pechucho told the Dawn newspaper, adding that no hospitals in the region had received a patient suffering from heat stroke.
There are fears that this year could echo June of 2015. The heat wave during Ramadan in 2015 also coincided with frequent power outages, and resulted in temperatures of upwards of 113 degrees Fahrenheit. The New York Times reported 1,000 deaths as hospitals were overrun with over 14,000 patients suffering from dehydration and heat stroke. In 2015, the Edhi morgue ran out of freezer space after 650 bodies were brought in a short period of time, prompting ambulances to leave corpses outside of the morgue in the overwhelming heat.
Residents are hoping for respite from the sweltering heat, as Thursday brought coastal winds that cooled the city to highs around 100 degrees. The temperatures for the rest of the week look to stay under 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Sources and further reading:
Dozens Die in Karachi From Relentless Heat – The New York Times
Death toll climbs in Karachi heatwave – The Guardian
Death Toll From Heat Wave in Karachi, Pakistan, Hits 1,000 – The New York Times