Pakistan wilts under record heat wave
By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Zulekhan Mumtaz has seen her
livelihood as a seller of camel milk turn sour because of a
brutal heat wave that left Pakistan sweltering for three
weeks in May with temperatures up to 51 degrees Celsius.
“My customers say they can
no longer buy spoilt milk and squander their money,” the
31-year-old said, looking at the clotted yellow liquid.
“How can I buy fodder for
the camel and food for my two children if the heat wave
damages my milk?” she asked, resting with her animal in the
shade of a tree in an upscale residential neighbour hood of
Pakistan in recent weeks has
suffered its most severe heat wave in decades, with
temperatures reaching as high as 51 degrees Celsius (124
Farenheit) on May 19 in Larkana, a city of two million
people in southern Sindh province. This was the highest
temperature for that month recorded there since 1998, when
the mercury had peaked at almost 53 Celsius (127
Lahore, Punjab province’s capital of about 15 million
population, was the hottest city in the country on May 24 at
47.4 Celsius (117 Fahrenheit), hotter than any May since
Such extreme temperatures – which are becoming more common
as a result of climate change - are an enormous health
threat. They also make almost every function of daily life a
nearly intolerable struggle – including, for millions,
trying to earn a daily living.
The camel milk vendor Mumtaz, who lives in a shanty village
on the outskirts of Pakistan’s capital, walks about four
miles (6.5 km) daily to set up her roadside stall. Most of
her customers are diabetes patients, among whom camel milk
is very popular because it is a good source of insulin to
help deal with the illness.
But “the heat wave has eroded my livelihood and made my
camel sick because of frequent dehydration,” Mumtaz said,
adding that the animal’s milk capacity had dropped by 70
percent. She sees her only remaining option as leaving the
capital to return to her ancestral village.
Other livestock owners in Chak Shahzad, an area on the edge
of the city popular with cattle farmers, report similar
FEARS OF HUMAN, LIVESTOCK
In the final week of May, Jamal Khan sold all 19 of his
buffalos to a slaughterhouse in the city for about 2.1
million Pakistani rupees ($21,000), because his herd’s daily
milk production had declined by 60 percent.
“I had no choice but to sell them, for fear of suffering
heavy losses if they die of hyperthermia or repeated bouts
of dehydration,” Khan said.
Deaths have not been limited to animals. Although officially
confirmed figures of heat-related deaths are not available,
local newspapers in Pakistan reported over a hundred deaths
since early May.
Residents in most cities, towns and villages have been
forced to stay indoors, leaving typically bustling shopping
areas and business centres closed, and roads and highways
deserted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Left with limited options to cope with the heat, people have
increased their consumption of cold beverages and fresh
juices to try beat the sizzling heat and avoid dehydration
and heat stroke.
Government hospitals across the country remained on
emergency alert throughout much of the last month because of
the heat wave.
“We have been advising the visiting patients (to increase)
consumption of fresh water, juices, fruits and vegetables”,
said Altaf Hussain, executive director of the Pakistan
Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in Islamabad.
On May 27, rainfall finally brought a significant drop in
temperatures to below 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) in the
Pakistani provinces of Khyber-Pakhtunkhuwa, Gilgit-Baltistan,
Punjab and Balochistan.
But the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) predicted
dry and very hot weather across the plains of Sindh
province, in the south of the country, for the first week of
June. Temperatures in Islamabad have rebounded by 10 degrees
to 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) since the end of the month.
According to a meteorological department advisory, the heat
wave is unlikely to completely loosen its grip until the
beginning of the first monsoon rains, expected in the first
week of July.
Qamar-uz-Zaman, vice president for the Asia region at the
World Meteorological Department, said that extreme summer
temperatures, which have become common during the last few
years in Pakistan, can largely be attributed to climatic
Data gleaned last year from 56 meteorological stations
throughout Pakistan show a marked increase over recent years
in the frequency of heat waves and rising temperatures
particularly in the southern plains and coastal areas,
according to Ghulam Rasul, a senior weather scientist at the
Reports of severe damage to cotton crops and paddy rice
nurseries have come from around the country.
Ibrahim Mughal, chair of Agri Forum Pakistan, said in a
phone interview that the heat wave had struck when cotton
and rice sowing were at their peak.
“Farmers will have to quickly re-sow their cotton and paddy
crops to avoid further harvest losses,” Mughal said.
Pervaiz Amir, an agro-economist and member of the
government’s Task Force on Climate Change, said that the
heat wave increased the evaporation rate by 20 to 25 percent
compared to normal summers. He advised farmers to irrigate
their crops more frequently, at least once or twice a week,
and to adjust the timing of irrigation to early mornings and
He also urged planting of shade and fruit trees along water
channels, to cut evaporation of water.
Pakistan’s Environment Protection Agency warned that people
in urban areas are at greater health risk from heat waves
than those in rural parts of the country, in part because
urban areas often absorb more heat.