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Scorching Temperatures Claim Lives of Hajj Pilgrims

This year’s Hajj pilgrimage was marked by extreme heat, resulting in the tragic deaths of at least 550 pilgrims. Among the deceased, 323 were Egyptians, primarily succumbing to heat-related illnesses. India reported around 50 deaths during the core Hajj period, including the Day of Arafat.

The Day of Arafat posed significant challenges, with temperatures soaring above 50 degrees Celsius. Despite the provision of air-conditioned tents, many pilgrims adhered to the strict religious practice of “Wakoof Al Arafat,” which involves standing and praying under the open sky throughout the day. Unfortunately, this, coupled with the extreme heat, led to numerous fatalities.Compounding the difficulties, pilgrims had to walk nearly 10 kilometers per day during the Days of Mina as part of the Hajj rituals, a task for which many were unprepared.The heat was the primary cause of death for all Egyptian pilgrims except one, who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush. Additionally, at least 60 Jordanians lost their lives. The total number of deaths at the morgue in Al-Muaisem, one of Mecca’s largest, was reported to be 550.

Last year, at least 240 pilgrims were reported dead by various countries, most of them Indonesians. In preparation for this year, Saudi officials advised pilgrims to use umbrellas, drink plenty of water, and avoid exposure to the sun during the hottest hours of the day. Approximately 1.8 million pilgrims participated in the Hajj this year, with 1.6 million coming from abroad.

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Hajj through irregular channels due to the often costly procedures for official Hajj visas. These off-the-books pilgrims are at risk, as they cannot access the air-conditioned facilities provided by Saudi authorities along the Hajj route. The large number of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims significantly increased the death toll. Many went without food, water, or air conditioning for extended periods, resulting in fatalities due to the heat, as they had no place to take shelter.

Earlier this month, Saudi officials announced the clearance of hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca ahead of the Hajj. Other countries reporting deaths this year include Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal.

Unfortunately, most countries have not specified how many deaths were heat-related.The Hajj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a mandatory act of worship that all Muslims with the means must perform at least once in their lifetime. However, climate change is increasingly affecting the pilgrimage. A recent Saudi study revealed that temperatures in the area where rituals are performed are rising by 0.4 degrees Celsius each decade. On Monday, temperatures hit a staggering 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, according to the Saudi national meteorology center.The Egyptian foreign ministry announced that Cairo is collaborating with Saudi authorities to search for Egyptians who went missing during the Hajj. Meanwhile, Saudi authorities have treated over 2,000 pilgrims suffering from heat stress, though this figure has not been updated since Sunday, and no information on fatalities has been provided.

Despite these challenges, Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdul Rahman Al-Jalajel announced on Tuesday that health plans for the Hajj had been successfully carried out, preventing major outbreaks of disease and other public health threats. This was reported by the official Saudi Press Agency.

The health system, prioritizing human health, prepared 189 hospitals, health centers, and mobile clinics, with over 6,500 beds and more than 40,000 staff and volunteers. Notably, over 390,000 pilgrims received health services, 28 open-heart surgeries were performed, 720 cardiac catheterizations were conducted, and 1,169 dialysis sessions were administered.

By Vinod Kumar (Dubai) 

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Last Updated: 13th Jul 2024