Nearly 700 people have died in a severe three-day heat wave in Pakistan, officials have said, with medics battling to treat patients as a state of emergency was declared in hospitals.
The majority of people died in government-run hospitals in the port city of Karachi, Pakistan’s economic hub of around 20 million people, as temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius at the weekend.
“The number of people who have died in the heatwave has now reached 692,” Saeed Mangnejo, a senior health official in Sindh province, said on Tuesday.
Mangnejo said that the death toll may rise further.
Karachi’s largest hospital, Post Graduate Medical College Hospital, has treated more than 3,000 patients, Dr Semi Jamila told the AFP news agency.
Hospitals have been swamped with people suffering from heatstroke and dehydration, while repeated power outages have left many without air conditioning or running water.
Meanwhile, seven people have died from the heat in Punjab province over the past 24 hours, officials said.
The deaths came as the overwhelmingly Muslim country of around 200 million people observes the Islamic month of Ramadan, during which eating and drinking is forbidden from sunrise to sunset.
Some clerics have issued public warnings saying that physically weak people can abstain from fasting in these tough conditions.
The provincial government meanwhile announced a public holiday to encourage residents to stay inside, an official said.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has issued special instructions to the National Disaster Management Authority and other relevant organisations to arrange urgent assistance for the heat wave victims.
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, said most of the victims elderly and poor, many of them living in the streets.
On Tuesday, Pakistan’s paramilitary Rangers force set up medical camps at several points in Karachi where they were providing water and anti-dehydration salts.
Our correspondent said the provincial government had been criticised by opposition parties for poor management of the crisis.
“The opposition is now criticising the government in Islamabad, however it is the opposition that is ruling the province of Sindh,” Hyder said.
“The blame game is going on but the government did not issue any early warnings to tell the people to take care and because of power outages, the situation became worse.”
While temperatures in Karachi itself touched 44C in recent days, up from a normal summer temperature of 37C, meteorologists said rain was on its way.
“We are anticipating a sea breeze will set in some time [on Tuesday night]. The temperature will come down as the monsoon rain enters the Sindh coast, bringing rain to the city,” Ghulam Rasool, director-general of the Meteorological Department, said.
Last month, soaring temperatures during a weeks-long heat wave caused water shortages in thousands of villages in India, killing at least 1,826 people.