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June 27, 2015

Rapid deforestation cited as major cause of heatstroke deaths


June 27, 2015

A major factor responsible for the current unprecedented heatstroke deaths in Karachi is the rapid rate at which trees and forests in the city are being felled and places which provided the much needed shade in summer are capitulating to the high-rises, flat complexes, and shopping plazas. Trees which act as a temperating influence and keep the temperature under check are fast vanishing. Hence this heat-related crisis.
These views were put forth by Dr Qazi M Wasiq, general secretary of the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Karachi, while addressing the media at the Karachi Press Club on Friday afternoon.
Dr Wasiq said that on account of the rapid deforestation in the city, places which provided shade and places which kept the city cool had just become part of the past.
Most of the victims of the current heatwave were poor people, labourers who had come from other parts of the country to eke out a living.
They had places to rest in the scorching afternoon under the trees. They were deprived of this convenience on account of the mad deforestation.
Most of those who had had lost their lives to heat stroke were the victims of dire poverty, who had no way to shield themselves against the sun.
Dr Wasiq decried the fact that thickly wooded parks which once were such an inseparable part of the Karachi scene had disappeared making room for hopping plazas and apartment complexes. All the builders were concerned with was reaping the quick buck with absolutely no regard to human welfare.
He recalled the time when MA Jinnah Road was so thickly wooded and people used to frequent it for starling hunting.
Even worse, he said, was the fact that there was no replacing of the felled trees, no afforestation. “We need millions of trees to replace the felled ones and restore the ecological balance but the authorities are just not concerned.”
Dr Wasiq suggested that felling of trees be declared a crime. He lamented the fact that in

the six districts of Karachi there were only three hospitals, JPMC, Civil Hospital and Abbasi Shaheed, which were providing comprehensive medicare.
As such, he said that a heatstroke patient who had to be moved from New Karachi to the JPMC stood very slim chances of survival given the fact that it was over an hour’s ride, added to the crippling traffic jams. He called for immediately upgrading most hospitals to provide, primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare.
He was pessimistic about the role of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and questioned as to where it was now when it was most needed.
He did not quite appreciate the role of the civil society in matters like the deforestation crisis and said that its silence over such a vital issue was reprehensible.
He said that there were in all 700 ambulances in town to cope with over 2,000 heatstroke patients.
The media, he said, instead of alerting the people to the danger and providing the much-needed advice were just indulging in a blame game.
When a questioner brought to his notice the fact that the print media had been regularly printing advisories and warnings from the health authorities, he acknowledged that the print media had been very cooperative but the electronic media, he said, were just airing statements and counter-statements of the authorities.
Dr Wasiq said a large proportion of the victims were those over 60, with a lot many being diabetic.

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