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Death Toll Rises To 800 As Heat Wave Hits Pakistan


South Asia suffers more than its fair share of natural disasters. But a heat wave in Pakistan has killed more than 800 people, and that has put the Pakistani government under tough scrutiny. The tragedy began last weekend, the epicenter in the city of Karachi. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Here's how bad it's been. Since Saturday, 8,000 people rushed to just one city hospital. About 300 died. People in Karachi are killed pretty much every day by battles involving gangs, security forces, militants or rival ethnic groups. Yet, the toll exacted by a four-day heat wave has shaken many in that hardened city. A lot of the bodies now flooding Karachi's morgues and graveyards are those of the elderly, sick and poor. Intense heat, long power outages and a shortage of drinking water proved lethal. Doctors say the victims often had heatstroke, exhaustion and dehydration.

This is Islam's holy month of Ramadan, when the devout deny themselves food and water during the day. The Provincial Disaster Management Agency's begun publishing ads, reminding the sick that in Islam, it's OK for them to break the fast. Karachi is by far Pakistan's biggest city. It's a business town that drives the national economy. Yet, it also suffers from the same chronic power shortage as the rest of Pakistan, where the electricity cuts out every few hours. This has been going on for years, compounded by mismanagement and corruption. Pakistanis were out on the streets last week, protesting this before the Karachi heat wave, the tragedies adding to their anger that also erupted today in Parliament.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: The weather's finally relented for now. A cooling wind blew into Karachi today from the Arabian Sea, and rain arrived, a sign the monsoon's on its way. But forecasters expect temperatures to go back into triple figures tomorrow, bringing the risk of more deaths. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
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