ISLAMABAD - Renowned Pakistani social activist Abdul Sattar Edhi died Friday in a hospital in Karachi following a prolonged illness, his family announced.
The 88-year-old philanthropist founded the country's biggest welfare organization, the Edhi Foundation, with almost no money. His work brought in a flood of donations that built the Edhi Foundation into a huge health care network of hospitals, orphanages, clinics and women's shelters.
Edhi was known for his ascetic, humble lifestyle and is widely credited for having created more public benefits for the Pakistani people than a succession of elected leaders since the country was founded in 1947. He was often called Pakistan's "Angel of Mercy."
Worsening kidney ailments and problems related to diabetes led to Edhi's hospitalization several weeks ago, his son, Faisal Edhi, told reporters.
The Edhi Foundation, founded in 1951, owns and operates Pakistan's largest ambulance service, and it is a household name throughout the country. During the many violent incidents that have marked public life in Pakistan in recent years — suicide bombings, assassinations, attacks by militants — Edhi's ambulances are almost always the first help to arrive on the scene.
‘Servant of humanity’
"We have lost a great servant of humanity. He was the real manifestation of love for those who were socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor," Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in an official statement expressing his sorrow and offering condolences to Edhi's family.
Sharif said the country will observe a day of mourning, and will honor Edhi with a state funeral. The philanthropist's son said the funeral would take place Saturday in Karachi.
Because of his foundation's accomplishments and reputation, Edhi's support was regularly solicited by major political parties, but he remained resolutely apolitical. He had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and received many honors from countries around the world, but never changed his humble lifestyle.
The man called "the greatest living humanitarian in the world" by The Huffington Post and "a legendary charity worker" by the British newspaper The Guardian lived with his wife of 51 years in a small apartment above one of his clinics in Karachi. He never took a salary from his foundation, and was said to have owned just two pairs of shoes.
"His religion was humanity, his sect was service to humanity," said Tahira Abdullah, a prominent Pakistani rights activist.