Tragedy Strikes Hajj: Over 550 Pilgrims Die in Extreme Heat

# Hajj pilgrims dead from extreme heat, bodies left unattended

Mecca: A devastating heatwave during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage has resulted in the deaths of at least 550 pilgrims, diplomats reported on Tuesday. Among the deceased, 323 were Egyptians who succumbed mainly to heat-related ailments, according to two Arab ambassadors.

“All of them [the Egyptians] died because of heat,” one ambassador stated, except for one person who perished in a minor crowd crush. This toll has been confirmed by the hospital mortuary in Mecca’s Al-Muaisem neighborhood.

The diplomats also revealed that at least sixty Jordanians had died, a rise from the forty-one deaths announced by Amman earlier on Tuesday. The overall death toll reported by various countries has reached 577, according to an AFP tally.

Hajj, a fundamental pillar of Islam, is obligatory for Muslims who can perform it at least once in their lifetime. A recent study in Saudi Arabia highlighted the growing impact of climate change on the pilgrimage, noting a temperature increase of 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade in ritual areas.

On Monday, temperatures at the Grand Mosque in Mecca soared to 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit), according to the Saudi national meteorology center.

The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it was working with Saudi authorities to locate missing Egyptians, without confirming if they were among the deceased.

Saudi authorities have treated over 2,000 pilgrims for heat-related issues, but have not updated these figures since Sunday.

Last year, 240 pilgrims died, mostly Indonesians. Pilgrims were seen dousing themselves with water while volunteers distributed cold beverages and ice cream. In Mina, near Mecca, Saudi officials advised pilgrims to stay hydrated, limit sun exposure, and use umbrellas during the hottest parts of the day. Despite these precautions, many rites, such as prayers on Mount Arafat, require prolonged outdoor activity.

Reports surfaced of bodies lying motionless by the roadside and overwhelmed ambulance services. About 1.8 million pilgrims participated in this year’s Hajj, with 1.6 million coming from outside Saudi Arabia.

Challenges of Unregistered Pilgrims

Each year, thousands of pilgrims attempt the Hajj without official visas due to high costs, putting them at greater risk as they lack access to air-conditioned facilities along the Hajj route. An Egyptian official managing the Hajj operations noted that unregistered pilgrims contributed significantly to the chaos and subsequent fatalities in Egyptian camps.

“The collapse of services was caused by the great chaos that irregular pilgrims caused in the Egyptian pilgrims’ camps,” the official stated. The prolonged lack of food, water, and air conditioning led to many heat-related deaths.

Earlier this month, Saudi authorities removed hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca in preparation for Hajj. Countries like Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal also reported fatalities, though most did not specify if these were due to heat.

Despite the tragic toll, Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdul Rahman Al-Jalajel claimed on Tuesday that health measures for the Hajj were “successfully implemented,” preventing major disease outbreaks and other public health issues. The official Saudi Press Agency reported that medical professionals provided over 5,800 virtual consultations, mainly for heat-related ailments, allowing for quick intervention and preventing further increases in cases due to the extreme temperatures.

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