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Death Toll Rises in Pakistan as Cleric Issues Ramadan Fasting Exemption

Pakistan saw a respite from the heat on Thursday with the temperature at 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit in Karachi, down from 113 degrees recording on Sunday, but heat stroke victims were still arriving at local hospitals.
June 25, 2015, 3:53pm
Photo by EPA/REHAN KHAN

The death toll continued to rise in Pakistan today as a devastating heat wave grips the country, with 860 confirmed deaths and counting as of Thursday, according to a health official.

Pakistan saw a respite from the heat on Thursday with the temperature at 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit in Karachi, down from 113 degrees on Sunday. Despite the cooler temperature, people experiencing heat-related sickness were still arriving at the country's hospitals — although notably fewer people than earlier in the week — Sindh province's health minister Jam Mehtab Hussain told the Associated Press.

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In the Sindh province capital of Karachi, National Disaster Management Authority spokesman Ahmad Kamal said free medical treatment was available. Kamal confirmed that the situation was better on Thursday due to the lower temperatures that descended on Karachi.

The drop, sparked by cool winds coming off the sea and pre-monsoon rains, was expected to mark the end of the heatwave that the national disaster authority's chairman Maj. Gen. Asghar Nawaz classified as the worst he'd seen since 1979.

Karachi tallied 800 deaths alone as a result of the scorching temperatures in recent days. A majority of the heatwave's heat stroke victims have been from among the elderly, women, and children.

NBC reported that an unusual fatwa was declared by a senior Islamic cleric in Pakistan, allowing individuals whose life is in danger due to the heat to forgo the daily fasting practiced by Muslims during Ramadan. Sick individuals are typically exempt from the practice, and Islamic cleric Mufti Mohammad Naeem's fatwa reiterated the sentiment, saying that an expert doctor could make this decision.

"This is conditional on your medical condition and how you react to the heat, not a free-for-all," Naeemi told NBC. "But only a religious and qualified doctor can assess your condition."

While the army erected heat stroke centers to mitigate the situation, access to running water for drinking and bathing purposes proved challenging. Rolling blackouts plagued Karachi in recent days as many were forced to escape their hot homes to seek shelter in the streets.

Karachi's heat-affected residents also faced challenges finding vehicles that could carry the coffins of the dead to cemeteries. Meanwhile, some expressed concerns that gravediggers would overcharge families to bury their loved ones.

"I literally wept when I heard a poor man didn't have money to pay a grave digger," opposition lawmaker Abdul Rashid Godil said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.