Tragedy at Hajj as Extreme Heat Claims Over 550 Pilgrims’ Lives

During this year’s hajj pilgrimage, at least 550 pilgrims died, highlighting the grueling and often dangerous nature of the event, particularly given the scorching temperatures.

Among the deceased, 323 were Egyptians, predominantly succumbing to heat-related illnesses, according to two Arab diplomats coordinating their countries’ responses.

Except for one Egyptian who died in a minor crowd crush, all Egyptian deaths were attributed to the extreme heat. The diplomats reported these figures from the hospital morgue in the Al-Muaisem neighborhood of Mecca.

The heat took a significant toll on other nationalities as well, with at least 60 Jordanians among the dead. This figure represents an increase from the previously reported 41 Jordanian fatalities earlier in the day.

The cumulative death toll reported by various countries now stands at 577, based on an AFP tally, with the morgue in Al-Muaisem holding the remains of 550 individuals.

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, requires all Muslims with the means to undertake it at least once.

This pilgrimage has become increasingly challenging due to rising temperatures, a trend highlighted by a recent Saudi study that noted a 0.4 degrees Celsius increase per decade in the region where the rituals are performed. On Monday, temperatures soared to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Tragedy at Hajj as Extreme Heat Claims Over 550 Pilgrims' Lives
Tragedy at Hajj as Extreme Heat Claims Over 550 Pilgrims’ Lives

The extreme heat has led to a significant number of heat stress cases among pilgrims. Earlier in the week, Egypt’s foreign ministry collaborated with Saudi authorities to locate Egyptians missing during the pilgrimage.

While the ministry acknowledged some deaths, it did not specify details. Saudi authorities have reported treating over 2,000 cases of heat stress but have not updated this figure or provided comprehensive information on fatalities since Sunday. Last year, 240 pilgrims, mostly Indonesians, died, reflecting the ongoing risks associated with the pilgrimage.

Saudi officials advised pilgrims to take precautions such as using umbrellas, staying hydrated, and avoiding sun exposure during peak heat. Despite these measures, the rituals often require long hours outdoors, exacerbating the risk of heat-related illnesses.

Observers reported seeing many motionless bodies and overwhelmed ambulance services. Approximately 1.8 million pilgrims participated this year, with 1.6 million coming from abroad.

The situation is worsened by unregistered pilgrims who, due to the high cost of official visas, resort to irregular means to perform the hajj. These individuals lack access to air-conditioned facilities and other amenities provided by Saudi authorities, increasing their vulnerability.

A significant portion of the Egyptian deaths was attributed to such unregistered pilgrims. Earlier, Saudi officials had cleared many unregistered individuals from Mecca to mitigate chaos and ensure safety. Despite these efforts, the large number of heat-related fatalities underscores the need for enhanced measures to protect pilgrims from extreme weather conditions during the Hajj.

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