06/24/2015, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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For Caritas secretary, the heat wave’s death toll is close to 800, and the government has to act

Caritas Pakistan executive secretary Amjad Gulzar slams outages that left Karachi’s 20 million people without power. Heat stroke victims “should have access to adequate medical facilities.” Most victims are elderly and poor. Ramadan has made the situation worse.

Karachi (AsiaNews) – "Unfortunately, in many hospitals, care for heat stroke patients is not a priority,” lamented Amjad Gulzar, Caritas Pakistan executive secretary, who spoke with AsiaNews about the appalling heat wave that has hit the city of Karachi, Sindh province (southeastern Pakistan), causing almost 800 deaths.

"Although such a large number of deaths is due to the heat wave’s exceptionally high temperature, power outages have also left people stranded at home without power. For this reason,” he said, “parliament met yesterday to discuss the situation.”

According to official data, 744 people have died in Karachi, 38 more, in the surrounding areas. With temperatures reaching 45 Celsius, hospitals in Karachi, a megalopolis of 20 million people, are being overwhelmed as sick people continue to arrive.

"Caritas Pakistan has an office in the city,” Gulzar said. It has sent people “to visit the sick in hospitals and medical clinics. We are collecting information on the situation, meeting the sick and considering what to do. But we are not yet able to bring help. "

"Most victims are seniors over 60 and the poor,” the Caritas secretary said. “Some young people have died at the emergency because of the heat. However, the fact that it is Ramadan has made matters worse, since Muslims have to abstain from food and drink during daylight hours.”

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently declared a state of emergency and ordered the military to set up heatstroke treatment centres around the city. Nevertheless, many protests broke out in reaction to the authorities’ inadequate response.

In Sindh, the provincial government has been slammed for its indifference and insensitivity. Similarly, federal authorities have been criticised for their slow response to the worsening situation.

Amjad Gulzar agrees that the situation is critical. "It is hard to find a solution,” he said. “What is certain is that the city of Karachi, the most populous of the country, has a substandard power grid. This does not help.”

“People should have access to adequate medical facilities. However, that is not seen as a priority in public hospitals, whilst private clinics are overflowing with patients. The situation is now very critical.”

For the Caritas secretary, people need answers from the government rights away. “What we can do is urge the provincial chief minister and the highest authorities to take necessary steps to solve the situation and help those who are suffering."

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