Intense Heatwave Severely Impacts Education for Millions of Pakistani Students

Islamabad- Extreme Heat Forces School Closures Across Pakistan to Shield Children from Heatstroke

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Pakistan has temporarily closed schools in most regions to safeguard children from heatstroke and dehydration amid a severe, climate-induced heat wave.

“At least 26 million children in Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab—amounting to 52 percent of the nation’s pre-primary, primary, and secondary students—will be out of school from May 25 to 31,” Save the Children announced on Thursday.

The education department in Punjab attributed the closure of all public and private schools in the province to a sharp rise in temperatures and a prolonged heat wave. However, it clarified that schools “will be allowed to conduct examinations as scheduled, with necessary precautions to ensure the safety of students.”

On Thursday, doctors in major urban centers reported treating hundreds of patients for heatstroke.

This is not the first instance of extreme weather disrupting educational activities in Pakistan, a South Asian nation with a population of about 250 million people.

In 2022, Pakistan’s southern and southwestern regions were devastated by floods caused by erratic monsoon rains induced by climate change. These floods affected 33 million people and disrupted educational activities.

“Pakistan ranks fifth among the countries most affected by global warming,” Rubina Khursheed Alam, the prime minister’s climate coordinator, stated at a news conference in Islamabad on Thursday. She pointed to recent unusually heavy rains, floods, and soaring temperatures as evidence.

Alam noted that 26 districts in Punjab, southern Sindh, and southwestern Baluchistan are currently experiencing an intense heat wave, which is expected to persist for at least a week.

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She advised the public to minimize exposure to direct sunlight during peak heat hours and to stay hydrated, warning that extreme heat and dry conditions could ignite bush and forest fires in vulnerable districts.

This past April was the wettest in Pakistan since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall, resulting in the deaths of many people and the destruction of property and farmland.

Officials report that, due to climate change, temperatures in some affected areas of Pakistan have already approached 50 degrees Celsius (over 127 degrees Fahrenheit). Meteorological Department officials indicated that temperatures in northern and northwestern Pakistan would be “4-6 °C higher than normal” for the rest of the week.

Despite contributing less than 1% to global carbon emissions, Pakistan disproportionately suffers from the impacts of climate change.

Save the Children noted that Pakistan “faces rates of warming considerably above the global average, with a potential rise of 1.3°C–4.9°C by the 2090s, and the frequency of extreme climate events in Pakistan is projected to increase as well.”

The 2022 flooding resulted in at least 1,700 deaths, affected 33 million people, and submerged approximately one-third of Pakistan.

“Let’s stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged after visiting flood-hit areas in Pakistan. He described the situation as Pakistanis facing “a monsoon on steroids — the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding.”

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported that temperatures spiked to 43-47 degrees Celsius on Sunday across many northern states of India, including New Delhi. The agency warned in a statement that “the soaring temperatures across South Asia can put millions of children’s health at risk if they are not protected or hydrated.”

UNICEF noted that 76% of children under 18 in South Asia, about 460 million, were exposed to extremely high temperatures, with 83 or more days in a year exceeding 35 degrees Celsius. It estimated that 28% of children across South Asia were exposed to 4.5 or more heat waves per year, compared to 24% globally.

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