many people in the port city of Karachi, he was caught out by the
severity of last summer's heat wave which killed more than 1,300
people, and has hired a digger to excavate three elongated trenches
big enough for 300 bodies.
to God, we are better prepared this year," said Baloch, 28, who
works with three brothers at the vast Karachi cemetery run by the
charitable organisation Edhi Foundation.
the heat wave struck in the summer of 2015, hospitals, morgues and
graveyards in the city of 20 million people were overwhelmed, and
drug addicts, day labourers and the elderly were the biggest victims
of the searing heat.
hit 44 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit), their highest since 1981 and
above normal summer levels of around 37C (99F).
by the army and charity groups staved off an even worse disaster,
locals said, but the crisis exposed the shortcomings of Pakistani
emergency services in coping with environmental disasters that
scientists say will become more common in the future.
meteorological office is not predicting a repeat of last year's
extreme conditions, but, like Baloch in the cemetery, officials are
preparing for the worst just in case.
will not get out of control the way it happen last year," said
Karachi Commissioner Asif Hyder Shah, adding that nearly 60 hospitals
now have spare capacity for 1,850 heat wave patients.
summer patients slept on ward floors and long queues formed outside
Karachi's main state hospitals at the peak of the heat wave.
said nearly 200 first response centres have been set up across the
city, offering basic heat-stroke treatment to swiftly stabilise
patients. There are also 700 makeshift relief centres, dishing out
drinking water and rehydration salts.
will save lives. It's a comfort," said street vendor Muhammad
Mahmood, 32, after downing a cup of water at one centre. Next to him,
children in school uniforms queued to quench their thirst.
Foundation, at the heart of efforts to limit the suffering caused by
the heat wave last year, said it was expanding its huge fleet of
ambulances, anchoring extra shelves in its morgue freezer and buying
ice machines to keep patients and corpses cool.
summer, the Edhi morgue ran out of freezer space after about 650
bodies were brought in the space of a few days. Ambulances left
decaying corpses outside in sweltering heat.
macabre scenes plagued Karachi's cemeteries, where grave diggers
refused to work in the baking sun and charged up to five times normal
rates for burial plots.
were not able to buy those graves," said Faisal Edhi, managing
trustee of the Edhi Foundation. "They buried their dead in their
to prepare for extreme heat have been limited by decades of
under-investment in Pakistan's crumbling electricity grid and water
infrastructure, leaving the sprawling city vulnerable in times of
problem last year was compounded by power cuts which left people
unable to cool themselves with fans and air conditioners,
particularly affecting those unable to afford generators.
Pakistani politicians pinned some blame on the provincial government
and K-Electric, the company that supplies electricity to Karachi, for
the high death toll. K-Electric did not respond to requests for
Karachi residents said much would depend on whether any future heat
wave struck during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, when under
Pakistani law it is illegal to eat and drink in public places.
Qayyum Soomro, religious affairs adviser to the chief minister of
Sindh province, said officials will meet clerics to discuss whether a
fatwa, or religious edict, should be issued allowing people to break
the fast for health reasons.
Shah said the subject was "extremely sensitive" among a
things get really bad, I may abandon the fast since God says life is
most precious," said a fruit vendor selling mangoes and bananas
from a push cart.
year, his five-year-old son fell ill from the heat but was only
treated at the third hospital they visited. The first two, including
Karachi's biggest, were full.