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Pakistan Declares a State of Emergency as Heat Wave Death Toll Soars to Nearly 800

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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has declared a state of emergency, with nearly 800 people now having died from a heat wave sweeping Sindh province in the country’s south.

While acknowledging that periods of extreme heat were not uncommon, Farooq Dar of the Pakistan Meteorological Department, based in Islamabad, told TIME that the present heat wave was “unprecedented.” He said, “It has never been this bad.”

Officials placed the total death toll at 782 as of Wednesday morning, Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported, with a majority of the deaths occurring in Karachi, the country’s largest city and the provincial capital of Sindh. The number of fatalities has been increasing despite a gradual drop in temperatures over the last three days — with 337 reported on Tuesday against 304 and 136 on Monday and Sunday, respectively.

“We are continuously receiving people in a critical condition or dead,” Dr. Seemin Jamali, director of the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, told Dawn, adding that the hospital has thus far recorded 279 deaths. Morgues in the city are also filled to capacity.

The resumption of southwesterly winds into Karachi and surrounding areas on Tuesday will hopefully contribute to a further lowering of temperatures, Dar told TIME.

“The main cause [of the heat wave] is that the sea breeze was cut off, but the southwesterly wind has been flowing since yesterday afternoon and a bit of cloud cover has also come in. On Monday, the temperature was at 43 [degrees Celsius], Tuesday it went down to 41. Today we’re expecting a further drop of one or two degrees,” he said.

Anger against the provincial and central government at a perceived mismanagement of the crisis shows no sign of abating, however. Multiple daily power outages, preventing people from using fans and air-conditioning, coupled with water shortages during the holy month of Ramadan (or Ramzan), in which Muslims are required to fast until sundown, have seen street protests break out in multiple cities.

Pakistan Hit by Worst Heat Wave in a Decade

heatwave pakistan
A man cools off from a public tap after filling bottles during intense hot weather in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 23, 2015.Akhtar Soomro—Reuters
Heatwave Pakistan
Pakistanis receive ice outside a hospital during a heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 24, 2015. Qaisar Khan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Pakistan Heatwave
People cool off at water supply pipelines during a heat wave in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 24, 2015.Sabir Mazhar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
heatwave pakistan
A boy looks out from a window during a power outage in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 24, 2015. Akhtar Soomro—Reuters
Pakistan Heatstroke
People rush a man to a hospital as he suffers from a heatstroke in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 23, 2015.Shakil Adil—AP
Pakistan Heatstroke
A Pakistani patient suffering from a heatstroke receives treatment at a local hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 24, 2015.Shakil Adil—AP
Pakistan Heatstroke
Pakistani patients suffering from heatstroke receive treatment at a local hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 24, 2015.Shakil Adil—AP
Pakistan Heatstroke
Relatives of patients suffering from heatstrokes take shelter under trees at a local hospital in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 24, 2015. Shakil Adil—AP
Heatwave Pakistan
Rescue workers move the bodies of the victims of heat wave at a mortuary in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 22, 2015. Shahzaib Akber—EPA
heatwave pakistan
A volunteer sits beside a window, while waiting for the relatives of a deceased who died due to intense hot weather to collect the body, at Edhi Foundation morgue in Karachi, Pakistan, on June 21, 2015. Akhtar Soomro—Reuters

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Write to Rishi Iyengar at rishi.iyengar@timeasia.com