Living under the heat of 51 degrees C

PakistanSaeed Ali, 12, collapsed on his way home from school in the sweltering heat of the city of Jacobabad after studying all day in a classroom without a fan.

“A rickshaw driver took my son to the hospital. He couldn’t walk,” said Saeed’s mother, Shaheela Jamali, from beside the bed. Saeed was exhausted from heat stroke when the city of Jacobabad in Pakistan’s arid Sindh province suffered a severe heatwave in mid-May that peaked at 51 degrees Celsius.

A study released May 23 by the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi shows that recent intense heatwaves in India and Pakistan are 30 times more likely to occur due to climate change.

The heatwave has killed at least 90 people in two South Asian countries, melted glaciers and caused flash floods in Pakistan and wildfires in India.

Saeed Ali, 12, is being treated at a medical facility after losing consciousness from heat stroke on May 11.  Photo: AFP

Saeed Ali, 12, is being treated at a medical facility after losing consciousness from heat stroke on May 11. Picture: AFP

The canals in Jacobabad, Pakistan’s hottest city, are dry at the bottom and rubbish is everywhere.

“The city is on the front lines of climate change,” said city official Abdul Hafeez Syal. “Life here is very difficult.”

About a million people live in Jacobabad and the surrounding area, most of them in great poverty. Lack of water and frequent power cuts make life difficult for them in the extreme heat.

The doctor said Saeed is in critical condition, but Jamali still wants him to go back to school as soon as possible because knowledge is the only way out of poverty.

“We don’t want our children to have to do the crafts later,” Jamali said while tears ran down Saeed’s tired face.

Heatstroke is a condition where the body overheats and is unable to cool itself, which can cause symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, swelling of internal organs, loss of consciousness, and even death.

Saeed is in a recently opened heat stroke medical facility run by the Community Development Fund, a local NGO. Sister Bashir Ahmed, who treated the boy, said the number of patients coming to the hospital in serious condition is increasing.

“In the past, the heat peaked in June and July, but now it’s May,” Ahmed said.

Laborers who work hard in the sun are the most vulnerable. Workers in brick kilns work next to furnaces with temperatures up to 1,000 degrees Celsius.

“Sometimes the heat makes us nauseous, but if we don’t we don’t have any money,” says Rasheed Rind, who has worked here since he was a child.

A water vendor brings barrels to a water supply facility, fills them up, and then loads them onto a donkey cart to sell to locals in Jacobabad on May 11.  Photo: AFP

A water vendor brings barrels to a water supply facility, fills them up, and then loads them onto a donkey cart to sell to locals in Jacobabad on May 11. Picture: AFP

Life in Jacobabad has always been about battling the heat.

“I feel like I’m surrounded by fire. What we need most is electricity and water,” said blacksmith Shafi Mohammad.

Pakistan is facing a serious power shortage. The country is only supplied with electricity for 6 hours a day, while the city is supplied with electricity for 12 hours. Due to a lack of infrastructure and scarcity of resources, it is difficult for people to access cheap and high-quality freshwater.

Khairun Nissa recalls giving birth in hot weather. In the final days of her pregnancy, she shared a single ceiling fan with 13 people in the house. Son Nissa is now two years old and takes the skinny position of mother.

“Of course I’m worried about her health in this hot weather, but I know the gods will be with us,” Nissa said.

There is a government-installed faucet in front of the mother and daughter’s three-room brick house, but there is no water. The stench of garbage and standing water rose into the air around the house.

Local “water merchants” are in continuous operation. They tap state water reserves, deliver it to distribution points on their own network, empty it into plastic canisters and use donkey carts to deliver it anywhere, selling 20 rupees ($0.1) a 20-liter canister. .

“We don’t have waterworks, so it’s very difficult for people,” said Zafar Ullah Lashari, who runs an underground water business.

In a purely agricultural village on the outskirts of town, the women get up at 3am to fetch water from the well for the day, but it is never enough.

“We let the herd drink clean water first because that’s the family’s livelihood,” said Abdul Sattar, a buffalo breeder who brings milk to market for sale.

Children with dermatological diseases and diarrhea are also not prioritised. “It’s very difficult to decide, but if the animals die, what will the children eat?” Abdul said.

Pakistan ranks eighth on the list of countries most vulnerable to extreme weather conditions due to climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index compiled by environmental NGO Germanwatch.

Floods, droughts and tornadoes have killed thousands of people, displaced thousands from their homes, destroyed livelihoods and damaged infrastructure in recent years.

Many people choose to leave Jacobabad during the hottest months, leaving several villages devastated. Sharaf Khatoon lives with 100 people in a makeshift camp in the city, living on the meager rupees that workers earn.

They usually move camp during the hottest months, about 300 km from Quetta, which is up to 20 degrees Celsius cooler. But this year they will leave later because they are struggling to save enough money for the trip.

“We often have headaches, heart palpitations, skin diseases, but there is no other way,” said Khatoon.

Professor Nausheen H. Anwar, who specializes in urban planning in hot cities, said authorities need to think about long-term solutions and increase the level of emergency response.

“It’s important to be on high alert about the heat, but even more important is to be aware of the problem of constant exposure to the heat,” she said. “In places like Jacobabad, the problem is compounded by deteriorated infrastructure, power and water shortages, leaving people unable to cope.”

Along the empty, garbage-filled canal, hundreds of boys and a few girls from Jacobabad streamed into the school for their final exams. The children stood around a hand pump to fetch water, exhausted before the day started.

“The biggest problem we face is that we don’t have the basic infrastructure. That’s why we made it more and more difficult,” said the school’s principal, Rashid Ahmed Khalhoro. “We try to keep the kids happy, but the heat has a huge impact on children’s mental and physical health.”

A boy collects drinking water from a pipe of a water supply plant during a heat wave in Jacobabad May 11.  Photo: AFP

A boy collects drinking water from a pipe of a water supply plant during a heat wave in Jacobabad May 11. Picture: AFP

Due to the earlier onset of bad weather, he has urged the government to let students go to summer break half a month earlier when most classrooms don’t have fans. When the power was turned off and there was only an hour left to go to class, everyone was sweating profusely in the early morning weather.

Some rooms are so hot they can’t breathe, students have to move out to study in the hallway. Many young students often faint.

“The heat made us suffocate. Our clothes were wet,” said 15-year-old Ali Raza.

The children often had headaches and diarrhea, but decided not to drop out of school. Khalhoro said his students are determined to get out of poverty to find jobs in cool places. “Children go to school as they go to war, determined to achieve their goals,” he said.

Hong Hanh (Corresponding AFP)