Hajj death toll exceeds 1,000 amid extreme heat in Saudi Arabia

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Muslim pilgrims circumambulate the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, during the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (AP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, June 20: The death toll from this year’s hajj pilgrimage has surpassed 1,000, according to an AFP tally released on Thursday. Over half of the fatalities were unregistered worshippers who endured extreme heat conditions while performing the pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The latest reported deaths, including 58 from Egypt, underscored the severity of the situation, with 630 out of 658 total Egyptian deaths being unregistered pilgrims.

Reports from approximately 10 countries have contributed to the tally of 1,081 deaths during the annual hajj pilgrimage, a fundamental pillar of Islam that all financially capable Muslims are required to complete at least once in their lifetime. Official statements from various countries and information shared by diplomats have provided insights into the magnitude of the tragedy.

This year’s hajj coincided with the sweltering Saudi summer, with temperatures soaring to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, as reported by the National Meteorological Center. While Egyptian officials have refrained from confirming AFP’s figures, numerous social media videos have depicted distressing scenes of bodies strewn across the streets near the Grand Mosque.

A Saudi study published recently highlighted a concerning trend of rising temperatures in the region, with temperatures increasing by approximately 0.4 degrees Celsius per decade. Despite efforts by Saudi authorities to clear hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca earlier in the month, many still participated in the main hajj rites, which commenced last Friday.

Unregistered pilgrims faced heightened vulnerability to the extreme heat as they lacked access to air-conditioned spaces provided by Saudi authorities for authorized pilgrims. Without official permits, they endured hours of walking and praying outdoors without respite from the scorching temperatures.

According to an Arab diplomat, the primary cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims was heat-related complications, exacerbating issues such as high blood pressure. Alongside Egypt, countries including Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Jordan, Indonesia, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, and Iraq’s Kurdistan region have reported fatalities, although specific causes have not always been specified.

Families and friends continue to search for missing pilgrims, with concerns escalating as temperatures remain dangerously high. Despite Saudi Arabia reporting over 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone, official information on fatalities has not been disclosed.

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