A volunteer pours a cold drink for a motorcyclist in Karachi.—PPI
A volunteer pours a cold drink for a motorcyclist in Karachi.—PPI

• Temperature already touching 47 degrees in Jacobabad; Larkana and Nawabshah register 46 degrees
• Provincial machinery swings into action but many areas still devoid of promised facilities
• Many cities witness extended hours of loadshedding
• Livestock, crops and even archaeological sites at high risk

OFTEN called the hottest city on earth, Jacobabad lived up to its reputation on Sunday with a maximum temperature of 47 degrees, the highest recorded anywhere in the country.

Nearby Mohenjo Daro, Lar­kana, Dadu and Nawabshah weren’t far behind, registering 46 degrees Celsius each.

These extreme temperatures are merely the harbingers of much worse heat to come: a number of severe heatwaves are expected to sweep the province this week, which may raise the temperature by another six to eight degrees.

The agriculture-linked population of the region widely relies on paddy crops and are already facing a shortage of irrigation water. According to Ishaq Mughiri, a former president of Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), when temperatures begin to reach the high 40s, farmers are forced to migrate to cooler areas.

In view of the heatwave warnings issued by the Met Office and the various disaster management bodies, local authorities claim to have swung into action across the province. However, ground reports from Dawn’s correspondents suggest that a lot is left to be desired, considering the severity of the hot spell that may be witnessed from this week.

Lessons from 2012

The Sindh government seems to be taking steps in view of the lessons it learned from the 2012 heatwave, which claimed hundreds of lives in Karachi and the rest of the province.

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has geared itself up to cope with the situation in view of past failures to save precious lives, and Sindh Chief Secretary Asif Hyder Shah personally briefed all divisional commissioners in the province on Friday on all possible steps, such as declaration of emergency in all healthcare facilities and public awareness campaigns.

“We are trying to set up improvised health facilities, too”, the chief secretary told Dawn on Sunday evening. He said that temporary heat-stroke prevention centres were being set up in cities because the key was to get patients immediate help.

He also said industrialists were being told to make sure that their labour force should not have to work longer hours in these days.

“We are starting the training of ambulance drivers this time in view of lessons learnt in 2012”, says PDMA boss Salman Shah. “In 2012, every driver was in a hurry to shift those affected by heatstroke to hospital, while not caring about cooling them down through simple measures, or providing first aid”, he said.

According to PMD’s Chief Meteorologist Sardar Sarfaraz, the impact of this heatwave will begin from today (Monday). Although not something completely out of the ordinary for this time of year, Mr Sarfaraz says the reason behind the high heat is the formation of a high pressure area in the upper atmosphere, which causes air compression in the lower atmosphere, triggering a rise in temperature.

Heatstroke facilities

According to the Larkana deputy commissioner, Rescue 1122 has been put on round the clock alert, while major hospitals and rural health centres have been asked to establish heatstroke wards at the healthcare facilities.

However, no regular heatstroke ward has been established, even in Chandka Medical College Hos­pital, as 50 beds have been earmarked for those suffering from heatstroke, in the district.

Although the setting up of cold water stalls has been ordered across the city, no such kiosks could be seen in the city on Sunday.

The power situation also caused consternation among residents, as almost all feeders serving Larkana were affected, without any announc­ement from Sepco. Prolonged power outages have also led to suspension of water supply.

Stay indoors from 11am to 3pm

The district formerly known as Nawabshah, Shaheed Benazirabad, has also been in the record books for its extreme heat; in 2010, it became the hottest place on Earth when temperatures here touched a maximum of 51.2 degrees.

 WOMEN and children cool down after working at a muskmelon farm in Jacobabad.—Reuters/file
WOMEN and children cool down after working at a muskmelon farm in Jacobabad.—Reuters/file

Now, it is feared that the heatwave may break the previous records. Despite its history of extreme temperatures, however, local authorities have done little to prepare the area for the adverse weather to come.

The scorching heat is already forcing people to stay indoors, leaving markets deserted during the day. In addition, widespread loadshedding for extended hours is becoming a bane for locals. The area has witnessed a number of protests by various groups of citizens and traders, but in vain.

Shaheed Benazirabad Comm­­i­ssioner Syed Mohammed Sajjad Hyder has ordered officials in the district to set up water stalls and discourage people from venturing outdoors between 11am and 3pm, when the heat is most intense.

In Sukkur, Commissioner Fayyaz Hussain Abbasi has advised officials in Khairpur and Ghotki similar measures, and ordered district health officers to conduct special campaigns to spread awareness among the people about preventive measures to avoid heatstroke.

Heatstroke prevention centres have been set up in various areas around Sukkur, while a number of universities have also announced similar measures.

Nawabshah District Health Officer Dr Asadullah Dahiri told Dawn that all local hospitals, rural health centres and basic health units had been provided guidelines and designated specific rooms with cooling facilities to deal with heatstroke cases.

Being in the eye of the storm, so to speak, 45 heatstroke wards have been set up in Jacobabad, according to DC Zahoor Ali Mari. In addition, nine cold water points have also been established.

However, this is off-set by widespread loadshedding, with locals complaining that they are only getting power supply every three hours, followed by an equivalent outage.

Interestingly, cold water points and medical camps are still absent from the streets of Kandhkot, Kashmore, Ghotki and Shikarpur.

No shade

“It’s extremely hot even now,” exclaims a 34-year-old government schoolteacher from the arid region of Tharparkar. What worries him more is the fact that the dry spell is going to become even more severe over the next couple of days, according to warnings from weathermen.

“Any heatwave is going to make matters worse for our area”, insists Zulfikar Ali Bajeer, who resides in Dahali, a relatively new taluka of Tharparkar.

Dahali was created out of the Chhachhro taluka in coal-rich Thar, where the majority relies on groundwater to cater to the potable water needs of humans and livestock.

82-year-old Guatam Rathi from Chha­chhro, however, believes that people of Tharparkar have gradually adapted to temperatures in the high 40s. “But anything above that will be disastrous for us; such a situation endangers wildlife and livestock alive,” says Rathi, who lives a short walk from the coal power plant in Tharparkar’s Islamkot area.

“Tharparkar is now mostly devoid of its green cover. Even livestock can’t find any shade,” he says.

Threat to crops

But while officials are optimistic that they would be able to provide residents of the area with all necessary support during this heatwave, the same cannot be said for the crops growing in the region.

Growers are seriously disturbed, as they foresee damage to cotton, banana, rice, vegetables and other crops. SAB Nawabshah official Syed Zahid Hussain Shah told Dawn that cotton would not be able to bear intense heat and its fruiting would be badly affected.

He said banana and rice also require more water for growth, while there is already an acute shortage of irrigation water.

Archeological sites at risk

Apart from humans and animals, even archaeological sites are said to be at risk from the extreme heat.

Ali Haider Gadhi, a senior conservationist with the department of archeology, told Dawn that the soaring mercury would be harmful for the structures at Mohenjo Daro, as the rise in temperature causes evaporation, which definitely leads to degradation of the ancient site.

The elements have already inflicted much damage on the archeological site, with hundreds of walls identified as ‘leaning walls’, especially after the 2022 floods.

Waseem Shamsi in Sukkur and Zulfiqar Memon in Nawabshah also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2024

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