Climate crisis: Pakistan roasts as heatwave soars to 52°C

News Desk

As political tensions escalate in Pakistan, so does the climate crisis, exacerbated by prolonged power outages and high inflation.

Hospitals in major cities like Karachi and Lahore are overwhelmed with patients suffering from heatstroke and gastroenteritis, amidst a relentless heatwave persisting for the past week.”

Temperatures rose above 52 degrees Celsius (125.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh on Sunday, May 26, the highest reading of the summer and close to the country’s record high amid an ongoing heatwave, the met office said on Monday.

Extreme temperatures throughout Asia over the past month were made worse most likely as a result of human-driven climate change, a team of international scientists have said.

Locals have been asked to stay indoors and authorities have closed schools in parts of the country. For those braving the stifling heat wave, volunteers are pouring water on parched pedestrians while street vendors provide ice-cold beverages to help residents cool off.

The ongoing heatwave continued to bake major cities of Sindh as maximum temperature surged to 52 degree Celsius mark on Sunday.

In Mohenjo Daro, a town in Sindh known for archaeological sites that date back to the Indus Valley Civilization built in 2500 BC, temperatures rose as high as 52.2 C (126 F) over the last 24 hours, a senior official of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, Shahid Abbas told Reuters.

The reading is the highest of the summer so far, and approached the town’s and country’s record highs of 53.5 C (128.3 F) and 54 C (129.2 F) respectively.

Mohenjo Daro is a small town that experiences extremely hot summers and mild winters, and low rainfall, but its limited markets, including bakeries, tea shops, mechanics, electronic repair shops, and fruit and vegetable sellers, are usually bustling with customers.

Doctors treated hundreds of victims of heatstroke at hospitals across Pakistan after an intense heat wave sent temperatures above normal levels due to climate change, officials said. Scores of people were brought to hospitals in Hyderabad, Larkana, Jacobabad districts of Sindh and Lahore, and other cities in Punjab.

“The situation has been getting worse since yesterday, when people affected by heat started coming to hospitals in the Punjab province,” said Ghulam Farid, a senior health official. Pakistan has set up emergency response centres at hospitals to treat patients affected by the heat.

The state-run ambulance service is now carrying bottled water and ice to provide emergency treatment to victims of the heat, health officials said.

Mohenjo Daro was badly hit by climate-induced monsoon rains and devastating floods in 2022. The heat wave is forecast to continue for at least a week.

Authorities have urged people to stay indoors, hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel. But labourers say they don’t have a choice because they need to work to feed their families.

“Pakistan is the fifth most vulnerable country to the impact of climate change. We have witnessed above normal rains, floods,” Rubina Khursheed Alam, the prime minister’s coordinator on climate, said at a news conference in the capital, Islamabad.

Barakullah Khan, a civil defense official, asked people not to place cooking gas cylinders in open areas as a safety measure. He warned those living near fields that snakes and scorpions could enter homes and storage places in search of cooler spaces.

This month, temperatures are likely to soar to 55 C (131 F), weather forecasters said.

The United Nations children’s agency appealed for children to be protected from the heat.

“UNICEF is deeply concerned about the health and safety of babies and young children as debilitating heatwave conditions take hold in several countries,” said Sanjay Wijesekera, UNICEF regional director for South Asia. He said the increasing temperatures across the region could put millions of children’s health at risk if they are not protected and hydrated.

Heatstroke is a serious illness that occurs when one’s body temperature rises too quickly, causing some to fall unconscious. Severe heatstroke can cause disability or death.

This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall. Last month’s heavy rains killed scores of people while destroying property and farmland.

Daytime temperatures are soaring as much as 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit) above May’s average temperatures over the last 20 years, raising fears of flooding in the northwest because of glacial melting.

The 2022 floods caused extensive damage in Sindh and Baluchistan provinces, as 1,739 people were killed across the country.

Pakistan’s southwest and northwestern areas are also experiencing the heatwave.

Authorities have shut schools for a week in Punjab.

On Thursday, nongovernmental organization Save the Children said more than half of Pakistan’s school-age children — about 26 million — will be locked out of classrooms for a week due to the heat wave. In a statement, it said the closure of the schools in Punjab means 52% of the country’s students will be out of school.

In the city of Lahore people were seen swimming in roadside canals. Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1% to carbon emissions, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters.

Alam said recent erratic changes in weather patterns were the result of human-made climate change.

In Karachi, too, hot weather conditions persisted and the maximum temperature was recorded at 36.7°C with 55 per cent humidity — count of moisture in the air.

But with the current heatwave, shops are seeing almost no footfall.

“The customers are not coming to the restaurant because of extreme heat. I sit idle at the restaurant with these tables and chairs and without any customers,” Wajid Ali, 32, who owns a tea stall in the town.

“I take baths several times a day which gives me a little relief. Also there is no power. The heat has made us very uneasy.”

Close to Ali’s shop is an electronic repairs shop run by Abdul Khaliq, 30, who was sat working with the shop’s shutter half down to shield him from the sun. Khaliq also complained about the heat affecting business.

Local doctor Mushtaq Ahmed added that the locals have adjusted to living in the extreme weather conditions and prefer staying indoors or near water.

The highest temperature recorded in Pakistan was in 2017 when temperatures rose to 54 C (129.2 F) in the city of Turbat, located in the Southwestern province of Balochistan. This was the second hottest in Asia and fourth highest in the world, said Sardar Sarfaraz, Chief Meteorologist at the Pakistan Meteorological Department

The heatwave will subside in Mohenjo Daro and surrounding areas, but another spell is expected to hit other areas in Sindh, including the capital, Karachi – Pakistan’s largest city.– Reuters with additional input from AP, RFE/RL/Dawn

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