After bombs and bullets, heat preys on Karachi

Published June 24, 2015
A man cools off from a public tap after filling bottles during intense hot weather in Karachi. —Reuters
A man cools off from a public tap after filling bottles during intense hot weather in Karachi. —Reuters

Not more than a month ago, my colleagues and I were discussing the possibility of us fasting in Ramazan. April was ending and the heat was already fast on the up. We were rather apprehensive about getting through 30 days of fasting in this year's summer. Nevertheless, the first roza came and passed last week, and it turned out it wasn’t that bad till news about a heatwave broke.

At first, it was six people, by the next morning it came to 80, then 150 and now the official figures cite over 830 lives in a mere three days!

Karachiites die from bullets and bombs, now the heat was preying upon them.

I watched the television in utter shock as Edhi’s morgue representative came on stating,

"We have been telling people not to bring in bodies since last night, but they keep coming in. We cannot accommodate more dead bodies.

The gravity of the situation struck me where I stood; there was no place left in the city for the dead anymore, dead who could have been saved had they been warned, had someone ensured the implementation of basic precautionary measures.

Our most authoritative Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah led by example as he did not 'lose his cool' amidst the heat and mounting death toll. Then, when he finally found some, a good three days later, he passed an official statement in the Session.

And even when he stood in ‘solidarity’ with the families of the deceased, he just couldn't help it:

"There have been deaths before, during everyone's time. Whose names should I take? I don't want to get into a controversy."

Also read: Qaim dismisses child deaths from Thar famine

Before the Minister raised the issue in the Assembly, people from different corners of Karachi had already reached government hospitals to distribute cold water bottles to the affected. Now, their unity will be applauded as usual. The Rangers will also be commended for setting up makeshift camps for the heat-stricken.

How many times will we see this? It was neither the civil society's job nor that of the Rangers personnel to help people stay alive; it is the job of the state to look after its people or at least do enough to halt the every day mounting death toll.

It was in the first week of this very month when 18 people died in Sehwan from unbearable heat; the Karachi heatwave should not have caught the authorities off-guard.

Also read: Political inertia in heat crisis

In New Delhi, where scorching heat even melted the roads besides taking away at least 1000 lives, at least the roads were deserted as soon as the first warnings were issued. Here in Karachi, lives went on, until they no longer could.

Thanks to the onslaught of his paid adverts, I have now learnt by heart the Prime Minister’s endless services to the nation. But it would have been nice to hear a word of warning on the incoming heatwave, too. I’ll be honest: I didn’t know about the effects of heatstroke until Saturday because like a lot of people in the city by the sea, I trusted Karachi for being forever temperate, forgetting that even this city – especially with climate change – has its extremes.

Also read: Is Karachi experiencing climate change?

I was greatly perturbed when I looked at the figures and wondered why the dead were not from every corner of the city; why they belonged to some particular classes; why they couldn't fight the heat by air conditioners, chilled water bottles, and cool running showers.

And yes, I will not dismiss the fact that fasting in this extreme weather is certainly not helping. Staying dehydrated in this weather is like calling out to the grim reaper, but how many of our scholars have come out to tell people that no religious obligation is compulsory at the cost of life? Clerics who rant and rave about persecutions need to step up here and have the decency to announce that skipping a few fasts is better than death.

Sooner or later, I'm going to be hearing how blaming the government or K-Electric or clerics is not the solution, rather I should be helping all those who are suffering from heatstroke. Aptly so, perhaps, because we, Karachiites, are so used to silently carrying corpses on our shoulders, pretending to be resilient, that we have forgotten to accuse those who are killing us.

The tragedy that has befallen us is because of those ruling us; be it terrorism or natural calamities, one thing is certain: our governments keep failing us over and over again.

My beloved Karachiites, instead of looking for hope, do what you do best, keep picking up those corpses, and carry them to where they will finally find some rest.

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