Was climate change responsible for my father’s death?
Last year, as the soaring heat of the summer raged high, life for me stood at a standstill as my beloved father, who did whatever was possible in the life given to him, fought for his very existence.
It all started when my father started having trouble with his health, which gradually deteriorated within a month as the summer heat grew stronger. We paid frequent visits to the doctor, because my father had been diagnosed with cardiac cirrhosis for which he was admitted to the hospital, earlier on.
Later on, his condition deteriorated even more as the cirrhosis worsened due to the rise in temperature, due to which Karachi city was engulfed in the worst heat wave it has ever seen – one that had already claimed hundreds of innocent lives.
My father’s health was severely impacted by constant power outages, high levels of humidity, and increase in the intensity of the summer heat due to which he had the onset of severe fever and was rushed immediately to the hospital.
As we reached the hospital, the doctors admitted my father in the emergency ward but after his condition was worsening further he was shifted to the ICU. After spending a day in the ICU my father was later moved to the general ward because the condition of his health improved considerably and he was conscious for the first time in two days.
It turned out to be a moment of joy for me as I was reunited with my father who was able to talk to me and was replying to my questions. I was able to feed him solid food after two days and take care of his every need. I thought for a while that he had returned, but I was wrong.
Soon after I fed dinner to my father, and he was given his medicine, his condition started worsening and he started having a lot of difficulty in breathing. I called the nurse for help, as she was around giving medicine to my father. She started assisting him with what she could, but my father started falling unconscious. At that point I asked the nurse to call the doctor immediately.
The doctor wasn’t there. I started panicking and desperately asked the nurse to send the doctor as soon as possible. After the doctor did not turn up for a while, I cried out loud ‘Doctor ko bulao doctor ko bulao meray papa ko kuch ho raha hai’ (call the doctor, please call the doctor, something is happening to my father). After hearing my plea, the medical staff from the nearby wards rushed to the assistance of my father.
I was taken to the back of the room, where I stood praying that my father be released of the misery he’s in. The curtains were drawn shut, the doctors tried long and hard but then there was a long silence. My heart was pounding hard. I knew that my worst fears may have come true – that my father is no more.
There was a killing silence. My elder brother was given the news, first. I was outside the ward eagerly waiting for answers. My brother first came to me and took me to the lobby where he told me that father has passed away. I couldn’t bear this news well… I fell to the ground and cried my heart out because the one person who took so much care of me and inspired me a lot was no more with me.
To this day I question: what was the reason that was responsible for my father’s death? Was it the doctors? Was it his preexisting diseases? Or was it the heatwave, attributed to the shift in climate? I am at peace now with the fact that my father is no longer with me, but I just wish I could have saved him for more time. I wish I was there more often to take care of him and save him from what he suffered.
From a climate activist’s point of view, I won’t take the selfish approach of blaming only human-induced climate change as the sole reason for my father’s demise. But the question that comes to one’s mind is that, can a single extreme weather event be attributed to human-induced climate change?
It turns out, it can. The latest studies in environmental sciences point out that some of the worst climatic disasters, like the Karachi heatwave of 2015, can be attributed to climate change, as scientists have discovered that any increase in the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere does lead to extreme disasters.
Till June, 2015, more than 1,500 people had died due to heat strokes, heart attacks and dehydration when temperatures soared up to 49 °C (120 °F) in Karachi. High humidity, load shedding, and low level of water consumption during fasting worsened the problem. According to the latest studies on climate, extreme events have always been taking place, but the occurrence and reoccurrence of climatic disasters, with the frequency that we observe them now, weren’t that common.
One research report compiled last year by Sustainable Development Policy Institute – SDPI (an Islamabad-based sustainable development think-tank) clearly pointed out to not only a consistent increase in the number of heatwaves, but also indicated a rapid increase in the heatwaves occurring in the future that will impact cities like Karachi with greater intensity. Taking note of such research, politicians and public policy makers of Pakistan must take crucial steps to adapt and mitigate such threats to the climate through public awareness campaigns that save lives from the worst visible effects of a 1.5 degree climate scenario.
What I have shared here is something that had an immense impact on my life. What I shared is not only a story about how and in what circumstances I lost my father. In addition to that, is a heartfelt plea to the policy makers and politicians of Pakistan to take urgent actions action against the worst of climatic threats, like floods, heatwaves, and storms that Pakistanis face – especially those who are economically marginalized and oppressed. Such human-induced climate events have already claimed thousands of innocent lives in Pakistan. It’s about time we gained the right to speak out and call for climatic justice, from the very people who we elect as our representatives, in order to ensure our safety and welfare.
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The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.