ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Pakistani philanthropist whose name became synonymous with charitable causes and who achieved an almost saintly status in Pakistan, died on Friday in the southern port city of Karachi. He was 88.
His son Faisal said Mr. Edhi had been undergoing treatment for renal failure at the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation when he died.
The death was widely mourned in a country that is hungry for role models and heroes. To many, Mr. Edhi was known as the “Father Teresa” of Pakistan.
“We have lost a great servant of humanity,” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in a statement. “Abdul Sattar Edhi was the real manifestation of love for those who are socially vulnerable, impoverished, helpless and poor. If anyone deserves to be wrapped in the flag of the nation he served, it is him.”
Mr. Edhi was known throughout Pakistan for his Edhi Foundation, which he single-handedly set up almost 60 years ago, starting with meager resources and then expanding through private donations. Today, it operates nursing homes, orphanages, soup kitchens and family planning centers — all free of charge — as well as Pakistan’s largest ambulance service. With his lush white beard, Mr. Edhi was known in the orphanages as Nana, or grandfather.
In a country where government-run services have been glaringly ill equipped to deal with humanitarian crises, Mr. Edhi’s social welfare system has become a trusted household name.
The ambulance service, with at least 1,500 vehicles, has become grimly familiar in Pakistan, whether ferrying people maimed in terrorist attacks or carrying those injured in natural disasters.
Mr. Edhi maintained an austere lifestyle. He dressed simply and lived with his family in a sparsely furnished apartment adjacent to his foundation’s headquarters, always spurning attention from the news media. He was nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize.
His wife, Bilquis, a nurse by training whom he married in 1965, worked closely with him in the foundation. The couple received no salary for their work and lived off government securities. Mr. Edhi’s wife, two sons and two daughters survive him.
Though a revered figure, Mr. Edhi was once the target of an armed robbery, in 2014. Thieves entered his headquarters, an office building in the Mithadar neighborhood of Karachi, and held him at gunpoint, taking more than $1 million and more than 10 pounds of gold jewelry that had been donated to his foundation.
The robbery left Mr. Edhi bitter. “I had never imagined that this could happen to me,” he was quoted as saying then.Mr. Edhi was born in Gujarat, India, in 1928 and moved to Pakistan in 1947 after the country gained independence from the British Empire. Mr. Edhi initially sold cloth in Karachi’s wholesale market, but he soon gave up the trade to start a free medical dispensary.
The seeds of his devotion to social work were sown in his teenage years, when his mother became paralyzed and mentally ill. Mr. Edhi tended to her every need until she died when he was 19. He never completed his high school education.
Mr. Edhi said he believed in humanity and was wary of people who used religion for their vested interests. He was criticized by the country’s religious right for not offering Islamic prayers.
He also worried that social progress had not matched the world’s material and technological advances.
“People have become educated,” Mr. Edhi said, “but have yet to become human.”