Improving energy resilience in Pakistan could prevent 175,000 deaths by 2030, says UNICEF

ISLAMABAD — Developing resilient energy systems to power healthcare facilities in Pakistan could prevent more than 175,000 deaths in the country by 2030, a new new study from the United Nations children's agency said Friday.

It would also contribute $296 million to the country's fragile economy over the next 20 years by reducing maternal, adult and child mortality, UNICEF said. The survey, conducted by the agency's Economist Impact Unit, comes as Pakistan experiences an intense heatwave that has sickened thousands of people, putting further strain on the country's healthcare system.

Temperatures in several parts of Pakistan rose to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday.

Authorities also battled forest fires, which Pakistan has suffered during heat waves in recent years. A fire broke out near the capital Islamabad on Thursday, but officials have yet to determine whether it was caused by high temperatures.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from the hills around Islamabad as firefighting helicopters flew overhead to douse the flames.

Amid rising temperatures, authorities urged people to stay indoors, hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel. Demand for power has skyrocketed due to high temperatures, putting pressure on existing electricity sources.

UNICEF said resilient energy refers to reliable, flexible, accessible and high-quality power supplies that can withstand and quickly restore unexpected shocks, such as power outages and floods.

It says a more resilient energy supply for schools would reduce dropouts and improve children's learning so they can earn more in the future.

“Children depend on schools, health centers and safe drinking water for their survival, yet these facilities often lack the electricity supply to function optimally. As the current heat wave grips the country, electricity needs have skyrocketed, leading to shortages that could endanger children's health,” said Abdullah Fadil, UNICEF's representative in Pakistan.

UNICEF says 3.5 billion people worldwide live without reliable power.

It says climate change is contributing to the disruption of energy generation and distribution in Pakistan, where floods caused by climate-induced monsoon rains killed 1,739 people in 2022. Nearly half of the water infrastructure, such as storage tanks, wells and supply pipes, has been damaged by the floods.

This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual rainfall for the month. Heavy rains last month have killed dozens of people and destroyed property and farmland.

Daytime temperatures in May have risen as much as 8 degrees Celsius above average temperatures for the month over the past two decades, raising fears of flooding in the northwest due to melting glaciers.

UNICEF said it helped restore water systems for 350,000 people in 375 locations after the 2022 floods and also implemented several solar electrification initiatives in Pakistan.

“Pakistan has an abundance of renewable resources and by investing in them we are tapping into a gold mine to help children,” Fadil said. “We need the private sector to play a bigger role because the resources of the public sector will not be enough. This is everyone's business.”

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