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Heatwave deaths

June 25, 2015


EVER since the Sindh government sprung into action on the mounting death toll from the heatwave in the province, a series of absurd instructions have been pouring forth. The latest such announcements come from a late-night meeting chaired by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah, which decided on the early closure of shops, marriage halls and restaurants, a one-day government holiday, and a protest sit-in against K-Electric and the federal government. Earlier, the chief minister had ordered the closure of schools and colleges, even though it is summer holidays and most of these institutions are already shut. These measures have been used in the past to respond to a sharp deterioration in the power situation, and they have rarely ever yielded measurable results.

But what makes these announcements absurd is that they have very little to do with the deaths from heatstroke. The load-shedding situation across Sindh is very dire indeed, but the deaths from heatstroke are only marginally connected to electricity. The dead consist largely of very vulnerable people, including the poor, the elderly and day labourers, who had no awareness of the early symptoms of heatstroke or of preventive measures such as rapid rehydration with salts and covering of the head to prevent direct exposure to sunlight. The Sindh government is focusing excessively on electricity as the cause behind the deaths, and not enough on measures that more directly deal with the cause of the deaths. Did the participants of the meeting coordinate with any of the hospitals where the heatstroke victims were being treated or with the Edhi morgue which is saying it is filled to capacity, to find out what sort of assistance they might require? Did they try to determine the identities of the victims to see which groups were particularly vulnerable and what measures could be taken to target assistance to them? Did they coordinate their energy conservation ideas with K-Electric, which might have useful suggestions about how the existing electricity in Karachi can be better utilised? Did they look into the logistics of setting up relief camps across the affected areas, particularly Karachi, with the aim of marshalling volunteers with necessary supplies? It does not appear so. All they did, it seems, was to roll out the same old tried and failed ideas from the past, and announce them with a new gusto. That will hardly work to alleviate the crisis.

Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2015

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