20/07/2015 7:33 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Citizens Step Up To Cool Karachi Hospitals During Unprecedented Heatwave

Caption: Volunteers of Elaj Trust hand out bottles of water at Karachi's busy intersections in June.

The severe heat waves in Pakistan's port city, Karachi, has claimed more than 1,000 lives this summer. As residents of the city struggled to cope with the rising temperatures this summer, some citizens and non government organizations stepped up to help.

Elaj Trust, a local welfare trust, noticed that even hospitals were poorly equipped to handle the surge of heat stroke patients and lacked adequate ventilation in the wards. The Elaj team decided to take matters in their own hands, and "adopted" two medical wards at the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Center and the emergency ward at Civil Hospital in Karachi.

"The wards at Jinnah were so hot that even the attendants were fainting," said Dr. Talha Rehman, Trustee at Elaj Trust.

The Elaj Trust installed air-conditioning units at Jinnah and Civil, hired janitorial services to improve and maintain cleanliness in the adopted wards, and are now working on long-term renovations to prepare for future emergencies.

Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a well-known civil rights activist in Pakistan and the Managing Trustee of Elaj Trust said, "It's commendable how the citizens stepped up and responded to curtail loss of lives during the heat wave but now we have to plan for the future and not just work with a knee-jerk damage control policy. Pressure should be put in parallel to step up its efforts and work in collaboration with citizen organizations."

Mohammad Jibran Nasir and Dr. Talha Rehman, turned to social media to raise money for these operations. Their crowdsourcing campaign has been a raging success with more than $100,000 pouring in from across Pakistan and expats living abroad. The Elaj Trust frequently post photos and updates for their donors on their website and Facebook page.

"We recommend that people drink a litre of water with ORS (oral rehydration salts), aka Jeevan Jal, before starting their Ramadan fasts," Dr. Talha advised. The ORS ensures your your body has the key nutrients to better cope with this extreme heat.

In addition to helping the hospitals, Elaj team set up 7 large temporary shades and water distribution points on busy roads for pedestrians in Karachi.

The enthusiastic work of Elaj Trust, powered by it's strong network of volunteers across Karachi can serve as a model for the city to better prepare next year. Public service announcements about staying hydrated, and better equipped hospitals can save hundreds of lives - and keep hospital beds available for other patients.

But why are the deaths in Karachi disproportionately higher than other cities in Pakistan, and neighbouring India? It's called the "Urban Heat Island" effect.

Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan, without adequate urban planning. The compact network of buildings and roads are a "concrete jungle" which absorb heat during the day, and slowly release that energy at night, leading to high temperatures around the clock.

Global warming is leading to more extreme weather patterns across the world. Summers, monsoons, droughts, hurricanes and other natural disasters can be expected to be more severe in the coming years.

Specifically in Karachi, to combat the "urban heat island effect" in the long term, the Elaj Trust is launching a campaign to plant more tress across Karachi. In the past few years, cities like New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, Shanghai, London, Ontario and Lisbon have launched successful "Million Tree Initiative" to strike a balance between our concrete jungles, juxtaposed with actual trees.

Successful grassroots efforts, like the Elaj Trust, are a promising sign for Pakistan and other developing countries. It serves as a tangible case study that everyday people can leverage social networks and crowdfunding platforms to make a real difference in their communities, and even save lives!

You can follow Amrit on Twitter at @amrit_sharma.