Welfare organisations brace for more bodies as authorities deny deaths in Karachi

May 22, 2018

Welfare organisations working in Karachi are making preparations to tackle with more deaths as a heatwave has hit the port city.

Temperature in the city is likely to remain 44 degrees Celsius on Tuesday like the past two days. The situation has become unbearable for the people as intermittent power outages continue in the months of Ramazan. The Muslim majority fasts during the month and abstains from eating and drinking from dawn till dusk.

Faisal Edhi, who heads the Edhi Foundation, said on Monday that 65 people died of heatstroke in poor neighbourhoods. The health secretary and Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar denied the deaths.

Edhi morgues have received nearly 180 bodies in the past three days. “The relatives of 65 of the deceased said doctors told them that their loved ones died of heatstroke,” said Edhi.

Pakistani doctors treat a heatstroke victim at a hospital during heatwave in Karachi on June 29, 2015. Nearly two-thirds of the victims of a killer heatwave that swept southern Pakistan last week were homeless people, a minister said as the death toll in Karachi reached over 1,200. Photo: AFP

Edhi manages three morgues in the city, one each in Korangi, Lyari and Sohrab Goth. The most number of bodies came to the morgue situated in Korangi No 5. “Normally, we would receive six to seven bodies every day at that morgue,” he said. “In the past three heatwave days, we have received nearly 70 bodies. The most number of fatalities due to heatstroke happened in Landhi and Korangi.” According to him, most of the deceased are labourers who were working near boilers in factories.

The Edhi Foundation head said that even though the government is denying the deaths, they are equipped to handle the fatalities.

A Chhipa official told SAMAA Digital that they received two bodies on Monday, one each from new Sabzi Mandi and Mauripur.

‘No heatstroke deaths’

“No death occurred due to heatstroke,” said Health Secretary Fazlullah Pechuho.

Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center head Dr Seemin Jamali said the hospital has received no heatstroke patients as yet. According to her, there might be no heatstroke patients this year as the situation is different from that of the 2015 heatwave. “Three years ago, there was high heat coupled with humidity,” she said. “This time, humidity is low and it’s a very dry heat. In such a situation, the likelihood of getting a heatstroke is low as compared to high humidity.”

She still advised people to be careful and stay indoors. “If you must step out, keep a wet towel on your head and neck,” said Dr Jamali.

On the other hand, the government has set up a handful of heatstroke prevention camps in the city. At one such camp in Liaquatabad, there was neither water and ice nor staff to take care of the camp.

Abdul Sattar Edhi, head of the charity Edhi Welfare Trust, sits on a wheelchair as he offers funeral prayers along with volunteers for the unclaimed heatwave victims in Karachi on June 26, 2015. Pakistani welfare volunteers on June 26 held a mass funeral for 50 victims of Karachi’s worst heatwave in decades, whose bodies had gone unclaimed. Photo: AFP

Taking responsibility

In such a situation, welfare organisations have taken it upon themselves to handle the influx of bodies.

“Faisal bhai called us last night and told us to be prepared,” said JDC general secretary Zafar Abbas. “In 2015, we set up a temporary morgue at main Numaish Chowrangi, where we received 128 bodies.” This time, they are setting up four temporary morgues, one each in Malir, North Nazimabad, Numaish and Orangi Town.

This is not the first time that the government has denied deaths due to heatstroke. In 2015, a similar situation prevailed when welfare organisations such as Edhi Foundation were the ones to talk about the deaths while the government denied them. Over 1,200 people died in the 2015 heatwave in Pakistan. Back then, some government officials had argued that the numbers were inflated because drug users were brought in dead. But even they die of heat and their deaths were trivialised.

When the 2015 heatwave hit the country, Edhi Foundation held a mass funeral for victims of heatstroke as nobody showed up to claim the bodies. According to the foundation, they receive the bodies from police stations and keep them for three days waiting for any claimants. Edhi Foundation buries the bodies that remain unclaimed for three days at their graveyard in Mawach Goth. The city’s births and deaths bylaws devised in 1976 require the area police to report such bodies with the relevant municipality’s births and deaths wing. In a city where the police and municipalities are reluctant to take up their responsibility, organisations such as Edhi Foundation take it upon themselves to lay the unclaimed dead to rest.

Men rest under a bridge during a heatwave in Karachi on June 29, 2015. There are barely any trees left in the concrete jungle that Karachi has become. Photo: AFP

What can the people do?

A few days ago, many trees were chopped down in District South. In February this year, the government uprooted trees in Bagh Ibne Qasim and Beach View Park. The lack of greenery in the city makes the temperature even more unbearable. A number of lives could be saved if there were enough trees in the city to provide shade to people in the scorching sun.

Nearly three years ago, a man, Shahzad Qureshi, planted some trees in a Clifton park in Karachi. Today, the park is a jungle. Such jungles are called urban forests or dense groups of trees in the middle of concrete structures. The Clifton park was a success.

Qureshi then launched his project, Urban Forest, to “change Karachi”. He says we can change the environment of Karachi if five or six similar projects are done. He says people need to take time out from our busy schedules to repair the environment. Planting trees helps make cities cooler. He plans to bring more trees that you find in South Asian countries to Karachi.

 
 

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