Unbearable heat

By Editorial Board
June 21, 2024
People cover their heads covered with wet towels as they wait outside a hospital during a heatwave in Karachi. — AFP/File

Air conditioners have lost their efficiency; refrigerators struggle to keep things cool; and the concrete walls of homes and buildings remain burning hot long after sunset. This is the result of the extreme heatwaves that have gripped Pakistan since May. Temperatures in some parts of the country have crossed the 50C mark, leaving people helpless. The situation is not limited to Pakistan. Almost all countries are currently experiencing extreme heatwaves. In Saudi Arabia, which recently conducted the annual Hajj gathering, over 500 people died due to extreme heat. In India, extreme heat has killed dozens of people so far. Pakistan has been relatively safe, thankfully, since there have been no deaths. But there has been an uptick in the number of patients suffering from heat stroke, especially daily wagers and labourers who are compelled to work under the burning sun to earn a day’s meals. Another feature unique to Pakistan is prolonged loadshedding in several areas, which exacerbates people’s suffering.


Government representatives here are quick to absolve themselves of any responsibility and point to ‘climate change’ to imply that this is a natural catastrophe. What they fail to realize is that the reason for these extreme temperatures is mostly unchecked human activities. For example, tree cutting to promote urbanization has led to high levels of heat. Similarly, the urge to convert residential neighbourhoods into concrete jungles with a single plot divided into multiple plots has left homes without proper ventilation. And while policymakers do talk about how people who work outside can beat the heat, their policies rarely target those left at home. There must be a shift in our approach towards tackling heatwaves, ensuring that everyone is safe.

Even though Pakistan cannot reverse the damage caused to the environment, it can take several steps to save the population from the adverse effects of rising temperatures. First, there has to be a nation-wide tree plantation drive – which should go beyond photo-ops. Architects should be taken on board to develop sustainable and green building designs. Building infrastructure that can withstand extreme temperatures is essential. This involves designing buildings with natural cooling systems, using reflective materials, and implementing green spaces to reduce urban heat islands. Energy-efficient appliances should also be promoted to help people save on energy bills. Authorities must set up relief camps and provide cold drinking water to commuters and labourers. Extreme temperatures are here to stay – at least for the next five years. We have to work together to help people brace the challenges imposed by a scorching summer. And, while adaptation is crucial, mitigating the causes of climate change remains paramount. What we need to do, along with the rest of the developing world, is advocate for and implement policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adopt sustainable agricultural practices.