Hundreds of pilgrims dead in Makkah as temperatures hit 51.8°C

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Paramedics carry a Muslim pilgrim for a medical check after he fell due to a heat stroke at pillars, in Mina, near the holy city of Makkah Saudi Arabia, Sunday, June 16, 2024. (AP)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, June 19: Hundreds of visitors have died during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Makkah amid scorching heat, according to press reports and foreign ministries.

At least 550 people have died on hajj, diplomats informed Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday. Among the deceased, 323 were Egyptians, with most fatalities attributed to heat-related illnesses, AFP reported, citing two Arab diplomats. Reuters has not yet verified these numbers.

The hajj pilgrimage, which began on Friday, has historically seen fatalities due to stampedes, tent fires, and other accidents. This year, temperatures at the Grand Mosque in Makkah soared to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125.2 Fahrenheit) in the shade on Monday, as reported by Saudi state TV.

A 2024 Journal of Travel and Medicine study warned that rising global temperatures could outpace efforts to manage the heat. Similarly, a 2019 study by Geophysical Research Letters indicated that increasing temperatures in Saudi Arabia pose “extreme danger” to hajj pilgrims due to climate change.

The Tunisian news agency Tunis Afrique Presse reported on Tuesday that 35 Tunisian citizens died during the hajj, with many deaths attributed to extreme heat. Family members shared their grief on social media as they continued to search for missing relatives in Saudi hospitals.

The Jordanian foreign ministry announced on Tuesday that it had issued 41 burial permits for Jordanian pilgrims. Earlier reports stated that at least six Jordanian citizens had died from heat stroke during the pilgrimage.

Iranian state news outlet IRINN reported on Tuesday that 11 Iranians died and 24 were hospitalized during the pilgrimage, although the causes of death were not specified.

Additionally, three Senegalese pilgrims died during the hajj, as reported by the Agence de Presse Sénégalaise on Monday. Indonesian health ministry data indicated that 144 Indonesian citizens died during the pilgrimage, but it did not specify if any deaths were due to heat stroke.

The hajj, an annual pilgrimage that millions of Muslims undertake to Makkah to perform religious rites taught by the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), remains a significant spiritual duty. Despite extreme temperatures, a Saudi health official, speaking to Reuters on Monday, noted that authorities had not observed any unusual fatalities among pilgrims. Over 2,700 pilgrims had been treated for heat-related illnesses.

“Hajj is a difficult task, so you have to exert efforts and perform the rituals even in the conditions of heat and crowding,” an Egyptian pilgrim told Reuters on Sunday.

In response to the extreme heat, pilgrims used umbrellas for shade, and Saudi authorities advised staying hydrated and avoiding outdoor activities during the peak heat hours between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

The hajj, one of the largest mass gatherings in the world, is a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it. This year’s pilgrimage is expected to conclude on Wednesday, with more than 1.8 million participants, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.

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