Scorching Heat Claims Lives of at least 550 Pilgrims During Hajj

Diplomats reported on Tuesday that at least 550 pilgrims died during the Hajj, highlighting the grueling nature of the pilgrimage, which again unfolded in scorching temperatures this year. Among the deceased, at least 323 were Egyptians, with most succumbing to heat-related illnesses, according to two Arab diplomats coordinating their countries’ responses.

“All of the Egyptians died because of heat, except for one who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush,” one diplomat said, adding that the total figure came from the hospital morgue in the Al-Muaisem neighborhood of Mecca. At least 60 Jordanians also died, an increase from the official tally of 41 given earlier on Tuesday by Amman.

The new deaths bring the total reported so far by multiple countries to 577, according to an AFP tally. The diplomats said the total at the morgue in Al-Muaisem, one of the largest in Mecca, was 550.

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The pilgrimage is increasingly affected by climate change, according to a Saudi study published last month, which noted that temperatures in the area where rituals are performed are rising by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade. On Monday, temperatures hit 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, according to the Saudi national meteorology center.

Earlier on Tuesday, Egypt’s foreign ministry stated that Cairo was collaborating with Saudi authorities on search operations for Egyptians who had gone missing during the Hajj. While the ministry acknowledged “a certain number of deaths,” it did not specify whether Egyptians were among them.

Saudi authorities have reported treating more than 2,000 pilgrims suffering from heat stress but have not updated that figure since Sunday and have not provided information on fatalities. Last year, at least 240 pilgrims were reported dead by various countries, most of them Indonesians.

AFP journalists in Mina, outside Mecca, on Monday saw pilgrims pouring bottles of water over their heads as volunteers handed out cold drinks and fast-melting chocolate ice cream to help them keep cool. Saudi officials had advised pilgrims to use umbrellas, drink plenty of water, and avoid exposure to the sun during the hottest hours of the day. However, many of the Hajj rituals, including the prayers on Mount Arafat on Saturday, require being outdoors for hours in the daytime.

Some pilgrims described seeing motionless bodies on the roadside and ambulance services that appeared overwhelmed at times. Around 1.8 million pilgrims participated in the Hajj this year, with 1.6 million of them coming from abroad, according to Saudi authorities.

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Hajj through irregular channels, as they cannot afford the often costly procedures for official Hajj visas. This places these off-the-books pilgrims at risk, as they cannot access air-conditioned facilities provided by Saudi authorities along the Hajj route.

One of the diplomats who spoke to AFP on Tuesday said that the Egyptian death toll was “absolutely” increased by a large number of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims. “Irregular pilgrims caused great chaos in the Egyptian pilgrims’ camps, causing the collapse of services,” said an Egyptian official supervising the country’s Hajj mission. “The pilgrims went without food, water, or air conditioning for a long time.” They died “from the heat because most people had no place to take shelter.”

Earlier this month, Saudi officials said they had cleared hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca ahead of the Hajj. Other countries reporting deaths during the Hajj this year include Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal. Most countries have not specified how many deaths were heat-related.

Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdul Rahman Al-Jalajel said on Tuesday that health plans for the Hajj had “been successfully carried out,” preventing major outbreaks of disease and other public health threats, according to the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA). Health officials “provided virtual consultations to over 5,800 pilgrims, primarily for heat-related illnesses, enabling prompt intervention and mitigating the potential for a surge in cases,” SPA said.


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