KARACHI - Welfare volunteers on Friday held a mass funeral for 50 victims of Karachi’s worst heatwave in decades, whose bodies had gone unclaimed.
More than 1,000 people have died as a result of days of scorching temperatures in southern Pakistan, with the sprawling metropolis Karachi the worst-affected city.
After peaking at around 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) last weekend, the heat has subsided to the mid-30s and the city’s customary cooling sea breeze has started up, bringing relief to its 20 million inhabitants. At times this week the city’s morgues struggled to cope with the influx of the dead, many of whom were elderly, destitute or drug addicts.
The Edhi Foundation, a welfare group based in Karachi, on Friday buried 50 bodies that no relatives had come forward to claim.
Abdul Sattar Edhi, the organisation’s much-loved founder, was joined by dozens of volunteers and passers-by in offering prayers for the dead as they were buried in white cotton shrouds.
“In my whole life I have not seen such a large number of deaths due to heatstroke,” Edhi, who is around 90 years of age, told AFP. “It is a natural calamity.”
Amaullah, an Edhi official, said most of the 50 were heroin addicts. Karachi, Pakistan’s largest port, is a major transit point for heroin produced in Afghanistan.
An ambulance driver who has been transporting bodies for the Edhi Foundation said drug addicts were the worst-affected victims of the heat wave. “I picked up bodies from beneath the Rexer Bridge, where heroin addicts frequently hang out,” diver Irfan Ahmed, the driver said.
Karachi hospitals have treated nearly 80,000 people for the effects of heatstroke and dehydration during the week, according to medical officials.
Power cuts have contributed to the suffering, preventing fans and air-conditioners working and hampering water pumps.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued a statement blaming K-Electric, the city’s power company, for the crisis and threatening revenge.
This year’s heatwave has also coincided with the start of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, during which millions of devout Pakistanis abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
Many of those who died were outdoor manual labourers, who are paid by the day and may be reluctant to stop work as it would mean losing income.
On Friday, the daily high temperature was about 36 degree Celsius (97 Fahrenheit), according to Dr M Hanif, director National Weather Forecasting Centre. The power outages left many without fans, water or light at the beginning of Ramazan.
The stench of rotting corpses pervaded one of those morgues on Friday as workers offered funeral prayers for 50 victims.
Afterwards, workers removed the bodies from a hallway so full it was hard to walk through and then piled them into ambulances to be taken to a graveyard. “We waited for three days for any claimants to come forward, and now we are going to bury the 50 bodies,” Edhi’s Amanullah Khan told Reuters, adding some of the victims appeared to be homeless. “Before we bury them, we take photographs and issue tag numbers in case any claimants turn up later and can identify the body.”
The crisis - following a heatwave in India last month that killed about 2,500 people - illustrates how ill-prepared many developing nations are for the extreme weather conditions that scientists say will accompany global climate change in coming decades.
“These type of events are taking place across the world, we need to prepare ourselves and develop our strategy,” said Qamaruz Zaman Chaudhry, the Islamabad-based special adviser for Asia to the UN-World Meteorological Organisation. “It’s time to learn lessons, instead of getting into the blame game.”
Meanwhile, the death toll of heatstroke victims rose to 1622 with the deaths of 72 more people during the 24 hours.
Hospitals statistics revealed that some 72 people have died during 24 hours.
Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) confirmed the death of some 18 people. The hospital is still receiving heatstroke patients. At Civil hospital, 16 patients lost their lives. The hospital running under Karachi Metropolitan Corporation reported the deaths of 13 more people. Various private hospitals including Agha Khan, Indus and Patel Hospital have also confirmed the death of 25 heatstroke victims.
Various political parties including the Pakistan Army and Rangers have also established relief camps outside the hospitals to provide assistance and relief facilities to the victims of heatstroke.
13,000 TREATED IN SINDH
Sindh Disaster Management Authority on Friday said 13,000 people had been treated in the metropolis for heatstroke out of which 850 had died while 650 people are still getting treatment in various hospitals of the city. According to a statement issued on Friday, the PDMA said they had established 300 heatstroke centres including 60 camps set up by Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and 36 camps set up in different hospitals of the city. The heatstroke centres were also set up at various hospitals in other districts of the province.
The PDMA said free water tanker points were also established at 64 points including 16 in district Malir, 14 in Korangi, five in district South and East, nine in District Central and 15 in District West.
It also said that PDMA had established emergency centres in the province and could be contacted at 021-35842430, 021-99251458 and 021-99239524.