KARACHI - Nearly 200 people have died in a heatwave in southern Pakistan, officials said yesterday, as the government called in the army to help tackle widespread heatstroke in the worst-hit city of Karachi.
The death toll in Karachi, the country's largest city, where temperatures hit 45 deg C at the weekend, is at least 180 and a further 11 deaths were reported in southern parts of central Punjab province.
Dr Sabir Memon, a senior health official with the government in southern Sindh province, said the death toll was 180 and warned it was likely to rise.
An AFP tally based on information from five hospitals around Karachi suggested the toll there could be as high as 249.
Dr Seemin Jamali, head of the emergency department at state-run Jinnah Hospital, was quoted by the BBC as saying: "Patients with heatstroke brought to the hospital had high-grade fever, altered state of consciousness, dehydration and fits."
National Disaster Management Agency spokesman Ahmed Kamal told AFP the government has asked the army and paramilitary rangers to help with relief efforts, which will include setting up centres to treat heatstroke around the city of 20 million people.
Coping with the scorching heat has been made harder by the power cuts that are a daily feature of life in Pakistan.
The Sindh provincial government has imposed a state of emergency at all hospitals, cancelling leave for doctors and other medical staff and increasing stocks of medical supplies.
The fasting month of Ramadan, during which Muslims abstain from all food and drink during daylight hours, began week, coinciding with what is usually the hottest time of the year in Pakistan.
Dr Sher Shah, a former president of the Pakistan Medical Association, said Karachi's poor were most at risk.
Electricity shortages have crippled the water supply system, hampering the pumping of millions of litres of water to consumers, the state-run water utility said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has warned electric supply companies that he would not tolerate power outages during Ramadan, an official in his office said. Karachi University said it has postponed its examinations for at least one month due to the extreme weather.
The Edhi Welfare Organisation, Pakistan's largest charity, said its mortuary was packed to capacity with heatwave deaths and other casualties.
Pakistan's Met Office has predicted more hot and humid weather for the coming 24 hours, though thunderstorms expected later in the week could bring cooler weather. Doctors have advised avoiding exposure to the sun and wearing light cotton clothes.
The deaths come a month after neighbouring India suffered a deadly heatwave, with more than 2,200 deaths, mostly in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.