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PAK - Context - 2022 - Khaula Jamil (1)-min (2) © Pauline Moreau pour Action contre la Faim



Pakistan faces extreme heatwave

Symptoms of heat stress and heat exhaustion can include dizziness, nausea, fainting, confusion, fatigue, profuse sweating, headaches and muscle cramps. But if body temperature rises above its upper limit, which lies between 40 and 50°C, the human body can suffer a heatstroke, which can lead to swelling and dysfunction of internal organs, with potentially fatal consequences.

The rise in temperature disproportionately affects people living in poverty, who for example have no access to cooling systems, or those working in the informal sector, who are unable to interrupt their activity or work in the shade. Children, pregnant women and the elderly are majorly at greater risk from extreme temperatures.

Kulsoom lives in a village of Khairpur, Sindh, where she attended the heatwave response awareness sessions held by Action Against Hunger. She explains that her nephew got a heatstroke while working in the field. “He got high fever and was admitted to the hospital. As he has younger siblings to take care of and his mother cannot walk, he is the sole earner of the family” she worries.

 “My husband also went to the field to work. He got a heatstroke leading to a paralysis and he is still in bed at the moment”, adds Benazir, who also lives in Khairpur. While her family survived the deadly floods of 2022, this heatwave  is another tough blow for them. “We have small kids and our home was washed away by the floods. We are in desperate need of support”, she confides.

To mitigate the effects of this heatwave , Action Against Hunger Pakistan has mobilized resources and deployed teams who are already working in the districts of Jaffarabad, Sohbatput and Khairpur in the rural and remote regions of Balochistan and Sindh. This coordinated response is led in conjunction with local communities and government agencies to support the most vulnerable populations. “Our intervention includes raising awareness of heatwaves and heatstroke, distributing drinking water, providing shade and cooling facilities, and disseminating vital information on prevention and what to do in the event of heatstroke,” explains Muhammad Amir, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Pakistan.

Far from being an isolated phenomenon, this episode of extreme heat is a direct consequence of climate change. Pakistan is responsible for just 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, yet the country is disproportionately affected by extreme weather events such as droughts or floods [1].

Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall are exacerbating water stress, threatening the survival of crops and livestock. From 1951 until 2021, per capita water availability has decreased from 5260 cubic meters to 1017 cubic meters [2]. Water stress is set to accelerate after 2050, when the glaciers feeding the Indus river will have finished melting.

On the other hand, while the rainy season is vital for agriculture and food security, unpredictable downpours are increasingly leading to disasters. Between June and September 2022, flooding in Pakistan caused the death of over 1,700 people, the displacement of thousands and extensive material damage, particularly in the provinces of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhunkhwa. The destruction of crops and the death of large numbers of livestock has heightened food insecurity and led to a serious nutritional crisis, with almost 10.5 million people facing acute food insecurity in 2023 [3].

“Climate change is increasing the intensity, duration and frequency of heatwaves, while extreme weather events are on the rise. It is therefore essential that the international community continues to invest in resilience and disaster preparedness so that the country can face future challenges,” concludes Muhammad Amir, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Pakistan.

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