HomeNewsOver 1,000 Hajj pilgrims die amid record heat, AFP reports

Over 1,000 Hajj pilgrims die amid record heat, AFP reports

The 2024 Hajj pilgrimage has been tragically marked by the deaths of over 1,000 pilgrims amid Saudi Arabia’s extreme summer temperatures, which soared to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, according to AFP. 

This year’s pilgrimage highlighted not only the escalating impact of climate change but also the severe risks faced by economically disadvantaged pilgrims who are unable to afford official participation.

An Arab diplomat told AFP, “People were tired after being chased by security forces before Arafat day. They were exhausted.” 

“The main cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims was the heat, which triggered complications related to high blood pressure and other issues,” he said. 

Egypt bore a heavy toll, with 658 of its nationals dying, most of whom were unregistered.

The situation was also grim for other nations. Pakistan reported 58 deaths among its pilgrims, while Indonesia’s toll stood at 183, out of approximately 240,000 who attended. 

“I think given the number of people, given the weather, this is just natural, A Pakistani diplomat remarked to AFP.

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Historically, the Hajj has faced various challenges, from fatal stampedes to the spread of diseases like SARS and avian influenza. 

AsiaNews reported that in addition to these challenges, the rising temperatures have introduced a new level of threat. 

A climate scientist interviewed by AsiaNews pointed out that temperatures in Mecca are increasing by 0.4 degrees Celsius each decade, warning that by 2040 another peak in summer temperatures could align with the Hajj, intensifying the risks.

The vulnerability of unregistered pilgrims, who lack access to air-conditioned facilities and other resources, has been particularly highlighted. 

“Every year tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Hajj without registering or in a ‘clandestine’ condition, unable to afford official permits which are often expensive,” AsiaNews reported.

This group suffers disproportionately from the heat, especially after being displaced by security measures.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have commenced the burial processes, a task complicated by the high number of fatalities. 

“The burial is done by the Saudi authorities. They have their own system so we just follow that,” another diplomat told AFP.

Last year’s Hajj saw over 300 deaths, primarily among Indonesian pilgrims. The Hajj’s timing shifts about 11 days earlier each year, potentially allowing cooler conditions for next year’s event in early June. 

However, a 2019 study warns that climate change will cause heat stress for Hajj pilgrims to frequently exceed “extreme danger thresholds” in the coming decades. 

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