ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – For the past two weeks Karachi, Pakistan has endured a tormenting heat wave. Temperatures have soared as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, as schools and other businesses had to closed. Official reports now have the death toll over 2,000 with no relief until the monsoon rains, which may not come until the end of the month.
In May, the southern Indian provinces of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana endured a similar heat wave. Over 2,500 people died. Officially, it is the fifth deadliest heat wave in history. Temperatures climbed to 116 degrees Fahrenheit — so hot that the pavement on roads started to warp under the unceasing heat.
The annual monsoon rains, albeit delayed, brought much needed relief to the region earlier this month.
Unfortunately, these two deadly heat waves were perpetuated by the poverty in both regions. Thousands have had to receive treatment. Thousands more cannot work, due to illness or closed businesses.
Both governments issued statements imploring citizens to stay inside, avoid going out during the hottest hours, cover up when going outside and drink plenty of water. Unfortunately, some of these suggestions were not options for many.
These heat waves have disproportionately affected the poor. They don’t have the option to stay in doors and not work. As one citizen explained during an interview with BBC, “What are we suppose to do? If we don’t work, how are we supposed to feed ourselves?”
These two heat waves have revealed problems in both governments emergency aid services and energy grids.
In New Delhi, the government-run hospitals were overflowing with people suffering from dehydration and other calamities due to the excessive heat. People who needed treatment camped outside.
The water camps that have been set up in Karachi are overpacked. Thousands are seeking shade to avoid the unrelenting sun. Their homes are too hot to stay in.
Karachi has had rolling blackouts. Air conditioners, fans and water pumps have failed as a result. Officials say many of the deaths can be attributed to these failures.
In an interview with The New York Times, Zahid Farooq, who works for a nongovernmental relief agency in Karachi, lamented that there is not enough room in the hospitals and morgues. He believes that the casualties could have been minimized if there had been proper government oversight.
The same sentiment is felt in India
Assistant Surgeon M. Sudhir Kumar of Dakkili Primary Healthcare Center explained to Reuters that the death tolls are so high because of poverty; “People won’t follow basic precautions because they can’t. They need to work, but they end up dying.”
These deadly heat waves can be used as a learning experience. The importance of strong infrastructure and emergency response is revealing. Combating poverty will exponentially improve people’s lives, but also prepare societies for inevitable natural disasters like these.