Karachi: Pakistan's worst heatwave in decades has claimed at least 630 lives in the country's largest city as authorities on Tuesday ordered closure of all educational institutions and government offices and the army has also been called in to deal with the situation.
The heatwave, sweeping across Sindh province, has been going on since the start of Ramzan on Friday, wreaking havoc and triggering an emergency situation in major hospitals of the province. The death toll in worst-hit Karachi has topped 630 with another eight to 10 people dead in other parts of southern Sindh as a result of soaring temperatures, a senior health official was quoted as saying by media reports.
Three major state-owned hospitals confirmed a combined death toll of 341 until yesterday. Hospitals reported deaths due to heat stroke, exhaustion and low blood pressure. Temperatures of 44 to 45 degrees Celsius have been recorded in Karachi since Friday with the scorching heat continuing till Tuesday although the met office has forecast a break in the heatwave by Tuesday evening.
"We had until yesterday evening nearly 200 deaths from this heatwave," said Seemi Jamali, medical superintendent at Jinnah Hospital. "These 200 include dead bodies we have got from the scorching heatwave and those who passed away in the hospital while under treatment for heatstroke and dehydration," she said.
Jamali said the hospital had in four days treated around 3,000 people suffering from illnesses related to the heatwave. Doctors at the Abbasi Shaheed Hospital said 71 people had died due to the heatwave until Monday. Saeed Qureshi, a doctor at the Civil hospital, confirmed 70 deaths. The Sindh government has imposed a state of emergency at all hospitals, cancelling leave for doctors and other medical staff and is increasing stocks of medical supplies.
The Pakistan Army and paramilitary Rangers have also set up special centres for treatment of heat stroke victims and also supplied related medicines to government hospitals. Most of the deaths have occurred due to heat and gastro-related problems, said Salma Kausar, spokesperson Karachi Medical Corporation.
She said 14 women and two children were among those who died on Monday. Saqib Zeeshan, a spokesman for Indus Hospital, said 20 people had died of heat-related complications at the hospital till yesterday. The Sindh health minister said at least 15 deaths had been registered at Lyari General Hospital.
According to Liaquat National Hospital representative Anjum Rizvi 22 people lost their lives in the past 72 hours, while Khalid Masood, spokesman for Qatar Hospital, said 24 people were reported dead at the hospital. To make matters worse for Karachiites there have been prolonged power breakdowns in many parts of the city with some areas going without electricity for 12 to 20 hours.
The situation has created a crisis like situation in Pakistan's financial hub. Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah directed schools,colleges and government offices to close as an apparent means to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by extreme weather. "We are closing offices, schools and colleges not just in Karachi but throughout Sindh," Shah said in the Sindh Assembly. But he said offices that offer essential services like hospitals will remain open.