Amnesty calls for global action as extreme heat waves wreak havoc on human rights

A lot of the public health advice on avoiding exposure to heat presupposed that people could afford to stay indoors, negotiate different working hours, and access adequate water, healthcare, and cooling mechanisms.


KARACHI: Citizens cool off with water from a leaking pipe.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

June 6, 2023

ISLAMABADAn Amnesty International report on Monday urged the need for global action to be taken in light of a series of extreme heat waves wreaking havoc on human rights in Pakistan.

Its new report titled “A Burning Emergency: Extreme heat and the Right to Health in Pakistan” released on World Environment Day examined the impacts of extreme heat in Pakistan on people’s lives and right to health and livelihoods. It highlighted the struggles of people living in poverty in some of the hottest cities in the world.

“Pakistan is on the frontline of the climate crisis. Climate injustice is starkly visible, with its people facing disproportionately severe consequences, often life-threatening, despite their small contribution to climate change.

“Tackling a climate crisis of this scale requires global attention and action. Wealthier countries must make no mistake about the important role they play,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director in South Asia, Dinushika Dissanayake.

“On World Environment Day, we hope our report serves as a reminder of our collective responsibility towards some of the most marginalised people exposed to extreme temperatures. They are being forced to live in torrid conditions, as these searing temperatures rise every year while we idly let time go by.

Without further delay, wealthier countries must demonstrate a decisive commitment to reduce emissions, rapidly phase out fossil fuels and provide funds to support people to adapt and quickly operationalise the Loss and Damage fund established at COP27,“ he said.

The report also asked the Pakistani government to develop comprehensive heat action plans consistent with human rights law and standards, and to ensure that the rights of groups that are especially vulnerable to the health impacts of extreme heat are protected.

The report was based on in-person interviews with 45 people experiencing adverse impacts of extreme heat during the summer months of 2021 and 2022 in Jacobabad and Lahore in Pakistan.

Jacobabad is one of the hottest places on the planet. In June 2021, its highest recorded temperature reached an unbearable 52°C.

Amnesty International interviewed people at higher risk of exposure to heat, including agricultural workers, labourers in brick kiln factories, delivery riders, police officers, sanitation workers, and others in outdoor work.

Health workers interviewed in Jacobabad and Lahore reported increases in heatstroke, drowsiness, difficulty breathing, burning sensations in the stomach, dizziness, fever, body pain, eye infections, and headaches during periods of extreme heat.

Day-wage workers that Amnesty International interviewed, said they have no choice but to continue working even if they feel hot, despite the health guidelines to stay indoors during periods of extreme heat.

People such as those living in poverty and working in the informal sector with precarious work, lower incomes, and fewer opportunities for rest and shade, with limited or no access to support, are severely impacted by the extreme temperatures.

Furthermore, multi-layered and intersecting forms of discrimination against women also undermine their ability to cope with heat waves, which has potentially dangerous implications for their health and that of their children.

Despite the searing temperatures in Jacobabad and Lahore, neither city has a heat action plan or climate-responsive social protection mechanisms in place.

In Pakistan, more than 40 million people do not have access to electricity. Others have erratic and irregular supplies. People living in poverty do not have access to or are unable to afford, electricity for fans or air conditioning units, and neither can they afford to buy solar panels.

A lot of the public health advice on avoiding exposure to heat presupposed that people could afford to stay indoors, negotiate different working hours, and access adequate water, healthcare, and cooling mechanisms.

Amnesty International’s report sets out a comprehensive list of recommendations for the Pakistani government and the international community.

They include calling for the Pakistan authorities to conduct a needs assessment in the context of heat waves, focusing on — and with the participation of — the most marginalised people, preparing and implementing human rights-compliant heat action plans, and providing effective social protection in order to support people in coping with heat waves.

These actions all require significant financial resources, and the international community must come together to ensure that these are available. Debt relief from payments currently occupying significant amounts of government revenues and expenditures can be one avenue of financing.

Wealthier countries need to step up action to reduce emissions and phase out fossil fuels, in accordance with their human rights obligations, and provide the financing and support needed for Pakistan to put in place adequate adaptation measures, provide effective remedies for loss and damage, among other measures needed to protect human rights.

They should significantly increase climate funding while ensuring a better balance between climate mitigation and adaptation funding, including assistance to carry out human rights-consistent loss and damage needs assessments, the report concluded.

scroll to top