Mansoor Khan/Agencies

KARACHI - The country’s worst heatwave in decades has claimed hundreds of lives in Karachi as authorities on Tuesday ordered closure of all educational institutions and government offices while the army has also been called in to deal with the situation.

The heatwave, sweeping across Sindh, has been going on since the start of Ramazan on Friday, wreaking havoc and triggering an emergency situation in major hospitals of the province. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for emergency measures as the death toll from a heatwave in Sindh hit 1,200.

Over 1,200 lives have perished in sizzling heat in four consecutive days in the port mega city as temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (111 Fahrenheit) at the weekend. Around 1,000 people died in public hospitals of Karachi while dozens died at small medical institutes and clinics. Many of the victims were elderly people from low-income families.

Emergency was declared at hospitals and statistics revealed that some 350 people died only on Tuesday when temperatures remained at around 44.5 Celsius in Karachi, but luckily thunderstorms were forecast for the evening by country’s Meteorological Office.

Edhi Welfare Organisation said their two morgues in the city had received more than 400 corpses in the last three days. “The mortuaries have reached capacity,” Edhi spokesman Anwar Kazmi said. The deaths came as the people observe the Ramazan. Some clerics have issued public warnings saying that physically weak people can abstain from fasting in these tough conditions.

The highest number of deaths has been recorded at Karachi’s largest hospital, Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical College (JPMC) hospital, where they have treated more than 4,000 patients, according to Emergency Incharge Dr Simi Jamali. She confirmed that around 270 people have died at JPMC in last four days due to heatstroke, 65 of them on Tuesday.

Dr Saeed Quraishi at Civil Hospital, which was also full of heatstroke patients, confirmed the death toll of 135 in four days while 28 victims died on Tuesday alone. Medical and Health Services Director Salma Kosar confirmed that some 42 people have died on Tuesday alone in different hospitals of district administration while total toll four days there was around 125.

Sindh Government Hospital New Karachi confirmed 16 deaths while Indus Hospital reported 41 deaths. Ziauddin Hospital confirmed 25 casualties in last four days and Liaquat National Hospital reported total 64 deaths. In Qater Hospital, Orangi Town, total number of deaths was 34, while Aga Khan Hospital confirmed 20 deaths. KHID hospital confirmed 55 deaths in last four days.

A few old fans blew the sweltering air past the patients at Civil Hospital Karachi as stray cats sprawled in the dark corridors while friends of an unconscious policeman rushed outside to buy him the cold water the hospital could not provide. “This is how it is. No one cares for common poor man here,” Khadim Ali complained as he fanned his cousin, Shahad Ali, a 40-year-old vegetable vendor who collapsed in the heat.

Electricity shortages have crippled the water supply system in Karachi, hampering the pumping of millions of gallons of water to consumers, the state-run water utility said. The provincial government meanwhile announced a public holiday to encourage residents to stay inside, an official said. Many of the victims have been labourers who toil outdoors. Some residents also took to hosing each other down with water on Tuesday to avoid collapsing from heat stroke.

Meanwhile, seven people have died from the heat in Punjab over the past 24 hours, officials said. The deaths in Pakistan come a month after neighbouring India suffered a deadly heatwave, with more than 2,000 deaths. Hundreds of mainly poor people die at the height of summer every year in India, but this year’s toll was the second highest in the country’s history.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has issued special instructions to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and other relevant organisations to arrange urgent assistance for the heatwave victims. The army has also been deployed to set up heatstroke relief centres and assist the NDMA, it added. An NDMA official said heatstroke treatment centres would be established at all hospitals across Sindh.

The Sindh government is being increasingly criticised by opposition parties for not managing the crisis, which has been exacerbated by severe power cuts. One lawmaker suggested that the parliament should turn off its air-conditioning for an hour to show solidarity with the people. The electricity grid has been overwhelmed as people switch on fans and air conditioners, and as families all begin to cook at the same time.

In a sign of relief, Meteorological Office forecast thunderstorms for Tuesday evening in Karachi. “Due to a low depression developing in the Arabian Sea, thunderstorms will likely begin this evening and might continue for the next three days,” a Meteorological official told AFP. “A sea breeze will set in some time tonight. The temperature will come down as the monsoon rain enters the Sindh coast, bringing rain to the city,” said Ghulam Rasool, director general of the Meteorological Department.