KARACHI: In his first speech addressing the heatwave that has claimed over 770 lives in his province, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah made a surprising decision directing schools, colleges and government offices Tuesday to close as an apparent means to alleviate the suffering of those afflicted by extreme weather.
"We are closing offices, schools and colleges not just in Karachi but throughout Sindh," Shah said in the Sindh Assembly today. "Offices that offer essential services like hospitals will remain open."
Over the weekend, the top man of the Sindh province was in Larkana on a two-day visit for the birth anniversary of Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) late chairperson Benazir Bhutto. Shah returned to Karachi Monday and issued a late night directive to the managing director at the Karachi water board to ensure supply and distribution free of charge in areas where there is a water deficit this Ramazan.
Shah also ordered all provincial administration departments against switching on air conditioners in offices till 11 AM and vowed that strict action will be taken against those who fail to comply.
During the assembly session, however, the minister was not entirely informed about the progress made by provincial authorities assisting those affected by extreme weather.
"I want to inform you that a disaster management [system] already exists, not just for rains and storms but for such situations as well... they must have done their work. Non-government organisations must have also done their work," the chief minister said, adding that he was away for two days and is not equipped with the latest emergency relief information.
He said that his government in the past has published emergency hotline numbers in newspapers, and can do so again.
"There have been deaths before, during everyone's time,” he said, not naming any political party. “Whose names should I take? I don't want to get into a controversy," Shah said in the assembly.
Heaping blame on K-Electric
The chief minister said that the electricity department is handled by the central government, adding that the organisation has an agreement with the federal government and not Sindh government.
"Definitely the overall opinion, be it of the House or outside the house, or newspapers, it has been said that because of electricity more deaths have occurred," he said today.
He added that he made several attempts to contact K-Electric owners in Dubai, who assured him that they will invest in Karachi but lamented that the situation at hand suggests that they have not spent anything. "Like businessmen, they have taken advantage of the situation and exploited it."
Editorial: Killer heatwave
Last night, the CM also directed authorities at Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) to open heatstroke relief centres in various parts of Karachi and provide assistance to those affected by the heatwave.
Sindh Rangers had already set up 10 heatstroke centres in Karachi and a few in other affected areas of the province a day earlier, when the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) sent a letter to the Karachi corps commander requesting assistance.
Know more: Karachi heatwave death toll crosses 400
Nearly 700 die as temperatures soar
According to latest hospital and rescue services reports, the number of deaths caused by Karachi's extreme heatwave have risen to as high as 770.
“The number of people who have died in the heatwave has now reached 692," earlier said Saeed Mangnejo, a senior provincial health official, adding that the toll may rise futher.
The highest number of deaths have been recorded at Karachi's largest hospital, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), where they have treated more than 3,000 patients, Dr Seemin Jamali told AFP.
Pakistan's largest charity, Edhi Welfare Organisation, said their two morgues in the city had received more than 400 corpses in the last three days.
“The mortuaries have reached capacity,” Edhi spokesman Anwar Kazmi told AFP.
The death toll at JPMC increased to 279 on Tuesday, whereas the number of dead at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital rose to 119.
The number of those who perished from heat at Civil Hospital has increased to 98.
Other hospitals such as Lyari General Hospital recorded 17 deaths. Private hospitals across the city also saw a rise in the number of deaths today such as Liaqat National Hospital, where the toll rose to 66, and Agha Khan Hospital, where the toll went up to 20. Qatar Hospital has so far registered 34 dead due to heat-related symptoms. Death toll at Ziauddin Hospital rose to 37.
Hundreds of heatstroke victims are reported to be in hospitals undergoing treatment.
Separately, a report submitted to the CM by Health Minister Jam Mehtab Dahar says 600 people have died in Karachi.
In pictures: Pakistan wilts under unrelenting heat
Meanwhile, seven people have died from the heat in Punjab province over the past 24 hours, officials said.
Temperatures remained at around 44.5 Celsius in Karachi on Tuesday but thunderstorms were forecast for the evening, Pakistan's Meteorological Office said.
“Due to a low depression developing in the Arabian sea, thunderstorms will likely begin this evening and might continue for the next three days,” a Meteorological official told AFP.
The maximum temperature in the city on Tuesday is expected to range between 42 and 44 degree Celsius.
Rainfall with fast winds is expected in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas division and Sukkur division in the evening.
On Monday, the maximum temperature in Sukkur, Chhor, Dadu, Larkana, Rohri and Nawabshah was 43 degree Celsius; in Jacobabad, Mithi and Moenjodaro 42 degree Celsius; in Badin, Thatta and Padidan 41 degree Celsius; and in Hyderabad 40 degree Celsius.
Protests continue in Karachi, Sukkur
Protesters in various parts of Sindh held demonstrations on Tuesday against power outages during the heatwave that has claimed hundreds of lives.
In Karachi, protesters created hurdles on the roads in several areas and blocked traffic. Some incidents of violence were also reported in Karachi's Lines area. Meanwhile, protesters in Sukkur hung themselves in a demonstration of token hangings.
Parliamentarians offered funeral prayers in absentia outside the Parliament House, for those who succumbed to the ongoing heatwave in the country.
Chief Secretary of Sindh Sadiq Memon also directed Sindh government officials to establish a heat control centre in Karachi. Chairing a meeting to make sure that the chief minister's directions were implemented, Mr Memon also ordered that 3000 tankers be provided to the heat stricken citizens.
With additional reporting by Hasan Mansoor in Karachi