OPINION: Feeling the heat in Pakistan – can we plan for heat waves?
CDKN’s Abdur Rahman and Charlotte Finlay reflect on how Pakistan could learn to plan better for heat waves and reduce the risks to its population.
South Asia’s heat wave challenge continues. This week, Sindh province of Pakistan feels the brunt of a severe heat wave during the fasting month of Ramadan. Estimates put the death toll at over 1,000 in Karachi with tens of thousands more being treated for heat stroke and dehydration. Temperatures have reached 45 degrees Celsius in the past week leading to the government’s announcing emergency measures, including army-manned heat stroke and rehydration centres.
As the temperatures dip and Karachi residents wait eagerly for the monsoon rains, we reflect that scenes in Karachi are eerily similar to those experienced in India last month when over 2,500 people died in a prolonged heat wave there. As in India, the most vulnerable to the heat in Karachi were the elderly, who are less able to regulate their body temperature, outdoor workers and the poor, who have less easy access to clean drinking water.
As national and local governments in Pakistan face some criticism for not doing more to avert the heat crisis in Pakistan, could lessons be learned from initiatives across the border in India? Can cities and communities be better prepared for events such as these, events that are likely to increase in frequency and severity due to global climate change?
With the support of CDKN, the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) and the Indian Institute of Public Health (IIPH), a coalition of academic, health and environmental groups and the municipal authorities have been working for the last three years to develop an Extreme Heat Action Plan, a first for South Asia. This plan, centred around enhanced public awareness of extreme heat, an early warning system and heat preparedness planning swings into action as the temperature rises and works together with the emergency services, health services and city authorities. The city is rapidly improving public health infrastructure in response. Ambulances are now located strategically where many calls for help during heat waves are issued. Hospitals now receive warnings when extreme temperatures are forecast and have extra ice packs on hand. Drinking water stations and public awareness materials are distributed throughout the city.
In the most recent month-long heat wave, Ahmedabad registered only seven deaths. This is in stark contrast to a heat spike in 2010 when 1,300 died across the city including at-risk groups such as outdoor workers, children, the elderly and slum dwellers.
CDKN’s ongoing work in the city is looking at longer term resilience to extreme weather and heat and looking to implement the same approach in other interested cities in India and beyond. Perhaps if the lessons from Ahmedabad can be learned and shared more widely, future deaths from heat waves can be avoided.
If it can work in Ahmedabad, then why not in Karachi?
Image: Karachi, Pakistan, copyright Zasami.