Home News South Asia heatwave reaches 127 degrees, life and death

South Asia heatwave reaches 127 degrees, life and death


As South Asia is gripped by scorching heat, life-and-death decisions come with the midday sun.

Abidin Khan and his 10-year-old son earn $3.50 a day making bricks from mud in an open-air kiln in the southern Pakistani city of Jacob Abad. But in recent days, with temperatures soaring to 126 degrees Fahrenheit (52 degrees Celsius), they have to stop working at 1 p.m., cutting their income in half.

“This is how we survive,” Mr. Khan said, sweat dripping down his face and soaking his tattered clothes. “We can only choose to work or die in the heat.”

It’s been another brutal summer in the age of climate change, and in one of the regions of the world hardest hit by it. And there’s more disaster to come: Forecasters say the extreme heat experienced by Pakistan and neighboring India will persist for days or weeks. It’s already taking a deadly toll.

Officials in the northern Indian state of Bihar said at least 14 people had died from the heat. Reports from other northern Indian states suggested the death toll could be much higher. Hospitals in both India and Pakistan reported large numbers of cases of heat stroke.

Ten of the deaths in Bihar were polling workers preparing for voting on Saturday, the final day of India’s national election. To ease the heat, polling workers are being given glucose and electrolytes, tents are being set up to provide shade and clay pots will provide cool water. New Delhi, which has seen temperatures approach 122 degrees this week, nearly 20 degrees above normal, recorded its first officially recognized heat-related death of the year on Wednesday.

Jacob Abad, long considered one of the hottest places on Earth, hit 126 degrees on Sunday and had three days with highs of 124. About 75 miles away, the Pakistani town of Mohenjo-daro, known for the remains of the 2500 B.C. Indus Valley Civilization, temperatures reached 127 on Sunday, just shy of the record set in 2010.

“It’s not heat,” said Mr Khan, a bricklayer. “It’s a punishment, maybe from God.”

Hot temperatures are compounding the challenges facing Pakistan, a country of 241 million people that already has Dealing with economics and politics turmoil.

For more than a million residents of Jacob Abad, life is a constant struggle to cope with the heat. Power outages of 12 to 20 hours a day are common, with some villages completely without electricity. Lack of necessities such as water and adequate housing exacerbates the suffering.

Most residents cannot afford air conditioners or alternatives such as Chinese-made solar cells and rechargeable fans. A solar panel used to power two fans and a light bulb costs as much as a month’s salary for a worker in Jacob Abad.

The water crisis is so severe that donkeys carrying water tanks are everywhere on the streets, and residents pay $1 to buy enough water from them to fill five small plastic buckets. Soaring demand has pushed up the price of ice, making the necessity even harder to find.

Many poor people have no choice but to go out to work. Rice is the lifeblood of Pakistan’s agriculture, and rice farmers toil in the fields from May to July, the hottest months.

For 25-year-old farm worker Sahiba, her day begins at dawn. She prepares a meal for her family, then walks several miles with other women to the fields, toiling under the blazing sun until the afternoon. Nine months pregnant with her tenth child, she carries a double burden.

“If we take a day or half a day off, there is no daily wage, which means my children go hungry that night,” Ms. Sahiba said.

According to community activists, every summer, 25% to 30% of the region’s population becomes temporary climate refugees. Some seek shelter in Quetta, a city 185 miles north, where the heat is even more unbearable. Others head to the port city of Karachi, 310 miles south, where similar incidents have occurred. Deadly heat wave But since power outages are less frequent, it can bring some convenience.

“Those who can afford it may rent houses in cooler parts of the city, but most residents are too poor. They struggle to survive under makeshift tents set up in the open air,” said Jan Odhano, head of the Community Development Foundation, a Jacob Abad-based organization that helps the poor cope with the heat.

Garment worker Jansher Khoso, 38, knows the struggle all too well.

In 2018, temperatures soared in Jacob Abad and his mother was hospitalized for heat stroke. Now, every April, he sends his family to Quetta, where they stay until the fall while he works in Karachi. But it comes at a high cost.

“I worked 16-hour shifts in Karachi to pay for this temporary migration,” Mr. Koso said, “because I didn’t want any of my family members to die in the scorching heat of Jacob Abad.”

Jacob Abad’s suffering is not limited to the heat. Monsoon rains and devastating floods The floods – linked to unusual weather patterns caused by climate change – inundated the region and about a third of Pakistan as a whole, killing at least 1,700 people.

The heat is nothing new in this city, which was named after British Brigadier General John Jacob, who experienced its harsh climate firsthand in the 19th century.

General Jacob led a small force to suppress rebellious tribes and bandits. On the first day of a 10-mile march, a lieutenant and seven soldiers died from the heat. His diary described the wind as “blowing like a furnace” even at night.

To cope with the harsh climate, General Jacob introduced an irrigation system and built three canals to provide residents with fresh river water. Today, these canals are dry and littered with garbage.

Suhasini Raj Reporting contributed by New Delhi.

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