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KARACHI, Pakistan — The temperature was still searingly high on Wednesday — 98 degrees Fahrenheit, or 37 degrees Celsius — but at least it was dropping. It had been as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, or 45 degrees Celsius.
Health and rescue officials said the number of deaths, which surpassed 800 during the four days that the merciless heat wave gripped this southern port city, had also fallen on Wednesday.
“Today was a lot better,” said Anwar Kazmi, a spokesman for the Edhi Foundation, which runs an ambulance service and Karachi’s largest morgue. “We’ve had 58 deaths today, compared to yesterday when the death toll rose to 300.”
Meteorologists said Karachi’s weather should improve in the days ahead. “There won’t be heavy rains, but there are chances of light rain in the city,” said Abdul Rashid, a meteorologist.
In the meantime, officials here ordered all government offices and educational institutions closed on Wednesday. Sindh Province, which includes Karachi, declared Wednesday a public holiday to encourage people to stay indoors and avoid the sun.
And Mufti Muhammad Naeem, an Islamic religious leader here, issued a rare fatwa, or edict, allowing ailing Muslims to forgo fasting during the annual Ramadan observance, in which most Muslims abstain from drinking water or eating during daylight hours lasting 15 hours.
Most of the victims, affected by heat stroke and dehydration, were taken to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Center, Karachi’s largest hospital. Dr. Seemin Jamali, head of the hospital’s emergency wing, said that 310 people had died there in the last four days and that thousands more had received treatment.
Statistics from other government and private hospitals suggested that the death toll had reached 830.
Most victims in this city of 20 million people have been elderly or poor. Charity workers and local residents said power failures that left parts of the city without electricity for fans, air-conditioners and water pumps had been a major factor in most of the deaths.
After seven animals at the city’s two zoos died because of the heat, animals were provided with hydrating fluids while zoo workers placed ice blocks in cages on Wednesday.
The Pakistani Army and paramilitary Sindh Rangers have established relief centers. And some nongovernmental organizations and volunteers have set up camps outside hospitals to provide water and medicine.
Zahid Farooq, an official at the Urban Resource Center, a nongovernmental organization here, said the heat wave had badly exposed Karachi’s structural flaws and lack of a reliable disaster management system.
“Sadly, there are not enough beds in hospitals, no space in morgues and graveyards and no emergency response,” he said. “The heat wave was not man-made, but providing proper medical treatment and drinking water could minimize the casualties.”
Yet Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Pakistan’s minister for water and power, said Wednesday that the chronic problems with the country’s power supply were not responsible for the high number of deaths in Karachi.
“The federal government is not responsible if there is a water shortage in Karachi,” he said on the floor of Parliament in Islamabad, the capital. “We are ready for accountability, but it’s not appropriate to blame us for each and every thing.”
Opposition politicians have criticized both the federal and provincial governments for mismanagement and an inability to handle the crisis effectively.
Related Topic: Heat wave kills more than 120 in Pakistan’s Karachi