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Pakistan hit by deadly cholera outbreak as heat wave grips South Asia

A deadly cholera outbreak linked to contaminated drinking water has infected thousands of people in central Pakistan as the country grapples with a water crisis exacerbated by a brutal heat wave in South Asia.

Temperatures in parts of Pakistan and India have reached record levels in recent weeks, putting the lives of millions at risk as the effects of the climate crisis are felt across the subcontinent.

Cholera cases were first identified in Pir Koh, a remote mountainous town in Balochistan province, on April 17. Since then, more than 2,000 people have been have been infected and six have died, according to Dr. Ahmed Baloch, from the health department of Balochistan.

Residents in Pir Koh say they have no access to clean drinking water. The lack of rain this year has caused nearby ponds to dry up, with their only source of water being a pipeline which had "rusted and contaminated the water supply," said local resident Hassan Bugti.

"Residents are forced to drink dirty water," he said.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has ordered "emergency relief measures" to curb the cholera outbreak in Pir Koh, and the military has been called in to help provide mobile water tanks to ensure clean drinking water gets to the population and set up medical camps to treat the sick.

Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness that kills thousands of people worldwide each year. It is easily transmitted, by consuming food or water contaminated with the fecal bacteria Vibrio cholerae. And scientists have warned of the severe impacts of climate change on human health, with rising temperatures encouraging the spread of dangerous pathogens such as cholera.

The outbreak comes as Pakistan faces a serious water crisis and an early onset heat wave that the Pakistan Meteorological Department said has been persistent across the nation since the start of the month.

Jacobabad, one of the hottest cities in the world, in central Sindh province, hit 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 degrees Fahrenheit) on Sunday, and 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) the day before. Average high temperatures in the city this month have been around 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).

The heat is unlikely to abate soon. While dust storms, gusty winds and scattered showers and thunderstorms brought relief to parts of the country over the past couple of days, temperatures are expected to ramp back up from Wednesday, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

Pakistan's Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman on Monday said Pakistan was among the most water-stressed countries in the world and one of the ten most vulnerable to climate stress.

The country's major dams are at a "dead level right now, and sources of water are scarce as well as contested," Rehman told CNN, adding, "this is an all-encompassing existential crisis and must be taken seriously."

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