In extreme temperatures, I would make sure to remain in an air-conditioned room as long and bear the noisy generator or UPS when the power is off. Cool showers, chilled juices, staying indoors are the ways I adopt to beat the heat. And when the heat really gets on my nerves, I craft cranky tweets, post updates on Facebook or photos on Instagram to show how summers and electricity load-shedding has disrupted my life.
Water. Electricity. Air-conditions. UPS. It is simply impossible to imagine life without these.
But there is a resilient group of people in Pakistan who struggled to fend off heat with a block of ice and wet towels. Ice, something that we just grab on to from our refrigerator, became a rare commodity for many people in Karachi during the heat wave.
“Take this water or you will die!” one man warned an elderly woman sitting on the roadside in Karachi.
And it was the best advice he could give. After all the raging heat in Karachi and some areas of Sindh province has devoured more than 1200 people in a week’s time. Scorching heat, prolonged absence of electricity, and no access to water, left many people in Karachi and Sindh dehydrated and dead.
Those ailing and dehydrated souls who managed to reach hospitals in search of cure only found it overwhelmed with patients. The miserable conditions of under-funded, highly mismanaged government hospitals, which lack life-saving medicines and where machines are often controlled by political party workers, cold behavior of doctors and the unwelcoming treatment of low-paid nursing staff all were enough to dishearten patients and their caretakers.
The heat spell, in many ways, reminds me of the deadly terror attacks which Pakistanis are used to. There is no warning or any preparation. The hospitals are flooded. The incident is all over the TV news. There is a debate everywhere from public transports to TV studios but no action from government. And again, it is the common man reaching out to help the fallen ones, not the government or city administration.
Why is there such deplorable silence in the corridors of power? Because the vast majority of those who are dead were ordinary poor people, labourers, daily wage workers? Are they not the equal citizens of this country? Why their lives are less significant than those killed in war and terror attacks? Perhaps this despicable statement by a minister explains the apathy of our leaders: “these people (affected by heat wave) are dying by natural causes, what can we do about it?”
The height of calamity can be grasped from the fact that world’s biggest ambulance network, Edhi, ran short of ambulances to pick up dead bodies, and the largest cold storage house of Karachi refused to take in more dead bodies as there were no space left.
What could be worse than that the dead ones are denied their natural right to “Rest in Peace” even in city’s dirty shrinking graveyards, thanks to the land mafia backed by their political masters.
But what is more sickening is the startling silence of the people of City of Lights (Roshniyon ka Sheher) who often claim to be the most awakened middle-class and social activists. The silent majority remained silent once again and continues to watch toward the hopeless mechanism that claims to be the provincial and federal governments of Pakistan.
It is not the catastrophe, demise, or scarcity of knowledge and health services that stunned me this time but the persistent resilience of the people of Pakistan and utter failure of the government.
“Nawaz Sharif and all you rich people sit in air-conditioned rooms, we don’t even have water or electricity and our children are in hospital” a woman suffering from heat wave uttered these words.
Lack of awareness, education, sorry state of health services and no warning about the heat wave by the government or TV charmed meteorologists were primary reasons of the disaster.
Expanded power cuts, water shortages, even in the month of Ramadan, added to the miseries.
Our mullahs were no different as no leading religious scholar bothered to issue timely advice to people who have sheer respect for Roza and Ramadan. It took 700 lives to make religious scholars realize to issue statements that elderly and sick can be exempted from fasting should there be a threat to their lives but many have already been the victim of this threat and it was too late…
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is perhaps extremely busy working for the public that he could not even manage to spare few hours to visit the city which generates more than half of economy of Pakistan or say few words for consolation for the victims.
In the absence of good governance, government reaction, timely response from meteorologists and religious leaders, it is upon the citizens of Pakistan to take the lead to prepare for future threats.
This article was originally published in Tribune International.