Haj pilgrims wilt under searing temperatures in Saudi Arabia

a 2019 study by the Geophysical Research Letters said that as temperatures rise in already arid Saudi Arabia due to climate change, pilgrims performing haj will face 'extreme danger'.
Last Updated : 18 June 2024, 15:58 IST

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Riyadh/Mina: Throngs of visitors struggled during the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage amid scorching heat as high as 51.8 degrees Celsius (125.2 Fahrenheit) in the shade at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi state TV said, with the heat claiming lives.

Thirty-five Tunisian citizens have died during the haj, which began on Friday, Tunisian state news agency Agence Tunis-Afrique-Presse said on Tuesday.

Many of those deaths were due to extreme heat, family members said on social media, as other families continued to search for missing relatives in Saudi hospitals.

The Jordanian foreign ministry said it had issued 41 burial permits for Jordanians on Tuesday. It said it was seeking burial permits for citizens who had died of heat stroke but did not state the number of these.

Earlier, the ministry said at least six Jordanian citizens died of heat stroke during the haj.

Eleven Iranians have died and 24 were hospitalized during the pilgrimage, Iranian state news outlet IRINN said on Tuesday without giving the cause of the fatalities.

Three Senegalese citizens also died during haj, Agence de Presse Sénégalaise, said on Monday.

One hundred and forty-four Indonesian citizens died during the pilgrimage, Indonesian health ministry data showed on Tuesday. The data did not specify if any of the deaths were due to heat stroke.

Stampedes, tent fires and other accidents have caused hundreds of deaths during haj in the past 30 years, forcing the Saudi government to build new infrastructure. The authorities now face new challenges protecting pilgrims from extreme heat.

A 2024 study by the Journal of Travel and Medicine found that amid rising global temperatures, worsening heat may outpace mitigating strategies, while a 2019 study by the Geophysical Research Letters said that as temperatures rise in already arid Saudi Arabia due to climate change, pilgrims performing haj will face "extreme danger".

Physical exertion

The haj is an annual pilgrimage that millions of Muslims make to Mecca with the intention of performing religious rites as taught by the Prophet Mohammad to his followers 14 centuries ago.

A Saudi health official told Reuters that the authorities did not notice any unusual deaths among Muslim pilgrims amid the extremely high temperatures.

The ministry had so far treated more than 2,700 pilgrims who suffered from heat-related illness, he added.

"Haj 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.

Pilgrims used umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, as Saudi authorities warned pilgrims to stay hydrated and avoid being outdoors during the hottest hours of the day between 11 am (0800 GMT) and 3 pm.

Haj, one of the largest mass gatherings in the world, is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it. It will end on Wednesday.

More than 1.8 million pilgrims were expected to take part this year, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.

Published 18 June 2024, 15:58 IST

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