A deadly cholera outbreak linked to contaminated drinking water has infected thousands of people in central Pakistan as the country plunged into a water crisis due to a brutal heatwave in South Asia.
Temperatures have reached record levels in parts of Pakistan and India in recent weeks, putting the lives of millions of people at risk as the effects of the climate crisis are being felt across the subcontinent.
On 17 April, a case of cholera was first detected in Pir Koh, a remote mountain town in Balochistan province. Since then, more than 2,000 people have been infected and six have died, according to Dr Ahmed Baloch, from the health department in Balochistan.
Residents of Pir Koh say they have no access to clean drinking water. Hassan Bugti, a local resident, said nearby ponds had dried up this year due to a lack of rain, and their only source of water was a pipeline that “rusted and polluted the water supply,” said Hassan Bugti, a local resident.
Residents are being forced to drink dirty water, he said.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has called for “emergency relief measures” to prevent the spread of cholera in Pir Koh. And the military has been called in to provide mobile water tanks to ensure safe drinking water to the people and to set up medical camps to treat the sick.
Cholera is an acute disease that kills thousands of people worldwide each year. It is easily transmitted through food or water contaminated with the fecal bacteria Vibrio cholerae. And while scientists have warned of the serious effects of climate change on human health, rising temperatures are encouraging the spread of dangerous pathogens such as cholera.
The outbreak occurred when Pakistan was facing a severe water crisis and heat waves began which the Pakistan Meteorological Department said had continued across the country since the beginning of the month.
Jacobabad, one of the warmest cities in the world, in central Sindh province, hit 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday and 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) the day before. The city’s average high temperature this month is about 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
The heat is unlikely to subside any time soon. Although dust storms, gusts of wind and scattered rains and thunderstorms have brought relief to some parts of the country in the last few days, temperatures are expected to rise again from Wednesday, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.
Pakistan’s Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman on Monday said that Pakistan is one of the ten countries in the world with the highest water pressure and the ten most at risk for climate change.
The country’s main dams are “dead at the moment, and water resources are scarce as well as competitive,” Rehman told CNN. “This is a pervasive survival crisis and must be taken seriously.”
A heatwave in the summer of 2015 killed more than a thousand people in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
The heatwave was also felt in neighboring India, where temperatures in the capital Delhi crossed 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday.
In recent months, India has experienced a severe heat wave, with North-West India reaching an average of 122-year-old average temperatures in April and March across the country.
Extreme heat has crossed the 49 degree Celsius mark in Delhi for the first time this year, with temperatures reaching 49.2 degrees Celsius (120.5 degrees Fahrenheit) at Mungeshpur Meteorological Center in Delhi and 49.1 degrees Celsius (120.3 degrees Fahrenheit) at Nahenjafgar Meteorological Station on Sunday. According to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). New Delhi has been suffering for 14 days above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in May.
Gurgaon, southwest of New Delhi, recorded the highest temperature since May 10, 1966, with 48.1 degrees Celsius (118.5 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, according to IMD.
IMD has forecast some relief for Delhi with cloudy and clear skies for the next few days. However, it did predict a return to high temperatures in some parts of the region by the end of the week.
In some states, the heat has forced schools to close, damaged crops and put pressure on power supplies, as officials warned residents to stay indoors and stay hydrated. On Saturday, India banned wheat exports – just days after hitting record shipments this year – as heat wave production declined and domestic prices hit record highs.
India often experiences heat waves during the summer months of May and June, but this year the temperatures start to rise in March and April.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), India and Pakistan are among the countries most affected by the climate crisis. Experts say climate change is causing frequent and prolonged heat waves, affecting more than a billion people in the two countries.
Dr Chandni Singh, lead author of the IPCC and a senior researcher at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements, said the heatwave was “examining the limits of human survival.”
“This heat wave is certainly unprecedented,” Singh said earlier this month. “We have seen changes in its intensity, its arrival time and its duration. This is what climate experts predict and will have a cascading effect on health. ”