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COVER STORY

May 13, 2016
By Shermeen Zuberi

“A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history...Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

“A world that we collectively felt in 2015 as the hottest year in recorded history...Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating.”

COVER STORY

Leonardo DiCaprio, in his Oscar acceptance speech, spoke out loud what all of us have known to be true but were too afraid to put in words. Karachiites are no strangers to intense hot weather pre-monsoon, but when temperature goes beyond 40 degrees, you can be sure they have borne the brunt of the scorching spell that hit Pakistan last year and can easily relate to Leo’s cause. Sources differed on the exact number of the deaths the heat stroke (and dehydration as a result) caused; what these reports agreed upon was more than a thousand perished during the span, including livestock and zoo animals for that matter. Can we really afford it all over again?

The mismanagement exhibited previously in terms of power outages and emergency services on part of our government can perhaps be excused, given such temperature was last recorded in 1979 only as reported by BBC. Yes, I mean to be sarcastic here. There were literally morgues and cemeteries that had to turn their backs on people because they didn’t have any space for the dead! Life last summer was made worse by these fails; even the slow response in some parts of the province did little to simmer down the anger.

One of the reasons quoted for this overwhelming tragedy was the vulnerability of those affected (dead or fainted). They were elderly, they were children, they were ailing women. There’s no being ‘caught unawares’, right, so can we hope this year to tell a different story? Elaj Foundation is making sure it does, that no one drives or walks away with a parched throat if they must work in the sizzling day against all sanity. Keeping the numbers to a bare minimum, they are providing relief to a greater majority of people in the metropolis, some of whom don’t find respite indoors, too.

The Metrological Office has forecasted a fairly hot period (May-June) for the entire country. Perhaps they gauged it from the extreme winters we had since they ‘lack the technology to predict weather events’. Who can tell? What does concern us, however, is the way we deal with it relentlessly.

The Elaj Foundation is doing some really good work as they go about their awareness campaign for heatwave. Elaj is a registered social welfare trust established in 2015 known for its active role in assisting victims to recover from flood, drought, earthquake, and heatwave.  The Elaj Tech Lab is no secret either where various modern healthcare solutions are promoted, proliferated, and innovated.

It is likely this campaign is but a continuation of their relief activities during last year’s heatwave, coming to which their belief in keeping awareness a priority when it comes to defence is quite obvious. Public Service Messages (television and print), flyers distributed in mosques and at traffic junctions in Karachi constitute their activities while other mainstream platforms like billboards and even comic books are under consideration. Since it’s imperative we educate students from low-income areas especially regarding identification of symptoms, first aid, and prevention from heatstroke, the step is to be lauded as it is appreciated. Besides, the pictorial references are always a welcome sight based on the limited literacy rate, warranting the entire message is not falling on deaf ears.

Not only are they creating awareness across the city, they are also setting up rehydration camps (aptly termed #HeatKaElaj) for the benefit of people. For the latter, the Elaj Foundation has taken in confidence and coordinated with the office of Commissioner Karachi to set up these cold water and ORS points.

COVER STORY

The first spell has already been witnessed – between April 22 and 25, 2016. There were 10 points effectively working in that instant – Civil Hospital, Jinnah Hospital, Layari General Hospital, Layari Khadda Market, Korangi Crossing, Aisha Bawany School (main Shahrah-e-Faisal) Shaheen Complex, Zainab Market, Jamia Cloth Market, and Zoological Garden. But the support garnered helped them facilitate more than 70,000 people. Their volunteers were – and are – school and university students whom they had engaged through social media and their website.

Make no mistake; their efficient service was no chance but rather selfless dedication to the public and it was powerful enough to move the Commissioner office to allow Elaj to expand their operations. Currently, they are catering to people in the vicinity of 30 different locations in addition to providing both volunteers and resources to 28th Basic Health Units in District South Karachi. Two more notable achievements need to be highlighted here: (a) maintaining the AC units (in working conditions) installed by Elaj Trust at JPMC and Civil Hospital for hospital staff and patients; and (b) providing janitorial services at JPMC’s Ward 7 where heatstroke patients brought in are admitted.

In a candid interview, Dr. Talha Rehman, Co-Trustee of Elaj Trust, shed light on their choice of localities. According to him, places with concentrated/clogged intersection points and with a greater number of street hawkers make the mark; their main concerns revolving around the traffic policemen employed and the motorcyclists passing through. As far as camps in Defence areas are concerned, those, too, are near certain colonies so as to be accessible for the labour community.

Co-Trustee and Director Strategy of the trust, Jibran Nasir, spoke about the approximate cost they incur on a given day. “On average, it amounts to Rs. 7,000. This covers everything from water, ORS, and ice to labour and transport.” He’s quick to bring attention to support from Nizam Tents as well, their donation of tents having brought down operational costs substantially.  A lingering statement as I cross by their stalls to and fro office and see pedestrians and motorists take their fill, this ever reminds me that Elaj essentially works on a crowd-funding model and would be at a loss without the support of people for possible relief activities. If you have money, donate. If you’ve resources you can spare, donate. If you are free and willing, come over and help – the camps function from morning till evening (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.), the schedule intended to remain the same as May 1, 2016 until July 31, 2016.

The writer is a member of the staff.