KARACHI: At least 12 women and children were killed in a deadly crush at a Ramazan food and cash distribution centre, set up by a private company in Karachi on Friday, police and rescue officials said, as the country struggles with surging food prices.

The stampede occurred when hundreds of women and children panicked and started pushing each other to collect food outside the F.K. Dyeing company in the Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate (SITE) industrial area, Fida Husain Janwari, Keamari’s Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), told Dawn.

Police Surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed told Dawn that 11 people — three children and eight women — were among the dead. She said nine bodies were brought to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and two were brought to Dr Ruth Pfau Civil Hospital.

Later, the deputy inspector general of police (DIG) for Karachi’s south zone, Irfan Ali Baloch, told Dawn that another woman had died, bringing the number of deaths to 12.

An Edhi Foundation spokesperson also said in a statement that death toll had risen to 12.

Dead were among hundreds that flocked to factory distributing alms

The bodies of all victims — two boys, one girl and nine women — have been shifted to an Edhi morgue in Sohrab Goth.

SSP Janwari said the dyeing company had invited the families of its employees in order to distribute Zakat among them.

He said that around 400 women had arrived and fearing a large crowd, the company staff closed the doors.

He said that inside the premises, there were no arrangements in place for making a queue, adding that local police were also not informed about the activity.

Several women fainted from the heat and during the stampede, he said, adding that police contingents rushed to the spot, detained some of the employees on charges of negligence and shifted the women to different hospitals. “Repo­rtedly, the company’s owner was not present,” he said.

South DIG Baloch said the company used to distribute Zakat and other items among the poor in Ramazan. He said that Friday was the third day the company was distributing alms, adding that between 400 and 500 people turned up.

He said the factory owner, identified as Zulfiqar, would be arrested soon.

Keamari’s deputy commissioner, Mukhtiar Abro, told Dawn that the factory owner did not have a no-objection certificate from the district administration and nor did he ask for security. He said that so far, seven employees have been arrested and a case would be registered against them.

On what could have caused the stampede, Mr Abro said that open water supply pipes narrowed the space for such a large number of people to make a queue.

Thousands of people have gathered at flour distribution centres set up across the country, some as part of a government-backed programme to ease the impact of inflation. At least five other people have been killed and several injured in recent weeks at sites in other provinces.

A police spokesperson said some of those who lost their lives on Friday were identified as Waseem Asif, 10, Saad Umar, 7, Ume-i-Hani Irshad, 7, Mrs Khursheeda Zafar, Abida Rashid, Sonia Saeed, Saeeda Umar, Naseema Shahid, and Waheeda Fazal. Most women were aged between 40 and 50 years.

The woman who died of her wounds later was identified as Mrs Rehmatullah, 35, according to an Edhi Foundation spokesperson.

The injured were identified as Yasmeena, 40, Malaika Shahid, 20, Modol Saeed, 20, Zahida Rafiq, 40, and Nazeera Sudhir, 45.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2023

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