Over the past week, Pakistan’s largest and most populated city has been scorched by a heat wave that has claimed more than 1,000 lives.
Morgues are packed with the dead found collapsed on the streets, unidentified and now headed for mass graves.
Hospitals overflow with patients suffering from dehydration, gastroenteritis and other indignities, with the elderly and young children being affected the almost.
Angry people protest over ongoing water & power issues
On Friday afternoon, the mercurial temperatures matched residents’ rage over ongoing water and power crises. Frustration reached a melting point and protests broke out on the city’s main roads.
Away from the din, on the edge of the city in Orangi Town, 30-year-old Mohammad Sameer is quiet and still. The heat has devastated his family. Two of his children — Kiran, 11, and Afroz, 8 — died of dehydration last weekend, when, according to Pakistan’s Meteorological Department, the temperatures soared to more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We have not had any water supply for over a year,” Sameer tells CNN, holding the pictures of his two dead children in his hands.
Water supply influenced by internal politics
Professor Noman Ahmad from the NED University of Engineering and Technology confirmed to CNN that Orangi Town has had a “dismal” water supply for almost three years. “Water supply in this part of the city is influenced by internal politics,” he says. “The people who live here have no proper political representation to affect policy, they have no voice.”
Four children with cerebral palsy – 2 died
We sit in Sameer’s empty one-bedroom house, where in one corner is the wheelchair his children used and in another, the strips of the white funeral shroud that covered their tiny bodies. His other two children are in an intensive care unit, where their distraught mother is tending to their needs. All four children were suffering from cerebral palsy.
Sameer drives a rickshaw donated to him by a charity; the house they live in was also donated by a benefactor. He tells us that he earns just $5 for a day’s work, but the past week all he’s been able to do is run from one hospital to the next and has been unable to work. This part of Karachi is called “11:30 Orangi Town” by locals, meaning that it’s close to the furthest edge of this megalopolitan city, with “12” being the very end — a dusty, beige hill overshadowing the nondescript dwellings.
A few streets away is the graveyard where Sameer’s children are buried. In this neighborhood alone, 10 people have died of heat-related ailments over the past week. The graves here are fresh, sprinkled with precious water and covered in slowly drying rose petals. Sameer recites a quick prayer for his deceased children as the sun sets in the distance.
It feels like the end of the world
“They were a part of me. I worked so hard to raise them and now they are gone. I feel like it’s the world’s end,” Sameer says. “Two small bodies leaving in one household — isn’t that doomsday?”
We accompany him to a private hospital where his two surviving children have been admitted. The cost of a bed per night is $18, so both the children share one since the family is depending on charity to provide their medical care. His wife stands by the bed, tending to the needs of 12-year-old Qainat and 7-year-old Sheroz, who lay silently on their bed, staring into the distance.
Pakistan’s politicians have faced severe criticism for not alerting the public about the dangers of a sudden heat wave. Local citizens have stepped up to fill in the gap where government services were unavailable.
Not a word from government
Jibran Nasir, a lawyer and social activist who has been raising funds to provide air conditioners and water to hospitals, is outraged. “Not a single public service message was sent out by the government regarding this heat wave,” he tells CNN. “If Sameer’s now-dead children would have made it to the largest government-run hospital in the city, they would still not have survived because of the dismal lack of facilities to deal with an illness as basic as a heatstroke.”
The Meteorological department has forecast a chance of rain in the coming days. But while temperatures have started to drop, no rainfall can rebuild a family broken apart by the simple ravages of heat, poor planning and a lack of basic necessities.
By Sophia Saifi.