More than 1,300 hajj pilgrims have died this year due to scorching heat, Saudi Arabia says

About 1,300 people died during this year’s hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as worshipers faced extremely high temperatures at Muslim holy sites in the desert kingdom, Saudi authorities said on Sunday.

Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdurrahman Al-Jaljel said 83 percent of the 1,301 fatalities were unauthorized pilgrims walking long distances in high temperatures to perform hajj rituals in and around the holy city of Mecca.

Speaking to state television, the minister said 95 pilgrims were being treated in hospitals, some of whom were flown for treatment in the capital Riyadh. He said the identification process was delayed because many of the dead pilgrims lacked identity documents.

More than 660 Egyptians were among the fatalities. All but 31 were unauthorized pilgrims, according to two officials in Cairo. Egypt has revoked the permits of 16 travel agencies that helped unauthorized pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia, authorities said.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief journalists, said most of the deaths were reported at the emergency complex in Mecca’s Al-Muaisem neighborhood. Egypt sent more than 50,000 authorized pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this year.

Saudi authorities cracked down on unauthorized pilgrims and expelled tens of thousands of people. But many, especially Egyptians, managed to reach the holy sites in and around Mecca, some on foot. Unlike authorized pilgrims, they had no hotels to return to to escape the scorching heat.

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On Saturday, the Egyptian government said in a statement that the 16 travel agencies have failed to provide adequate services to pilgrims. It says these agencies have illegally facilitated the travel of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia using visas that prevent holders from traveling to Mecca.

The government also said officials of the companies have been referred to the public prosecutor for investigation.

According to the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper, some travel agencies and Hajj tour operators sold Saudi tourist visas to Egyptian hopefuls for the Hajj, violating Saudi regulations requiring exclusive visas for pilgrims. These organizations left pilgrims in Mecca and its holy sites in limbo in scorching heat, the newspaper said.

The fatalities also included 165 pilgrims from Indonesia, 98 from India and dozens of others from Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Malaysia, according to Associated Press figures. Two US citizens were also reported dead.

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The AP could not independently confirm the causes of death, but some countries such as Jordan and Tunisia blamed rising heat. AP journalists saw pilgrims fainting from the scorching heat, especially on the second and third days of the hajj. Some vomited and collapsed.

Historically, deaths have not been unusual during the Hajj, which has sometimes seen more than two million people travel to Saudi Arabia for a five-day pilgrimage. The history of the pilgrimage also includes deadly storms and epidemics.

But this year the number was unusually high, indicating exceptional circumstances.

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In 2015, a stampede in Mina killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, the deadliest incident ever on the pilgrimage, according to an AP tally. Saudi Arabia has never acknowledged the full toll of the stampede. A separate crane collapse at Mecca’s Grand Mosque earlier that year killed 111 people.

The second deadliest incident during the Hajj was a stampede in 1990 that killed 1,426 people.

According to Saudi Arabia’s National Center of Meteorology, daily high temperatures during this year’s hajj period ranged between 46 and 49 degrees Celsius in Mecca and holy places in and around the city. Some people fainted while trying to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil.

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The Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is one of the largest religious gatherings in the world. According to Saudi Hajj authorities, more than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj this year, including more than 1.6 million from 22 countries, and approximately 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on crowd control and security measures for those attending the annual five-day pilgrimage, but the sheer number of participants makes it difficult to guarantee their safety.

Climate change could make the risk even greater. A 2019 study by experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that even if the world managed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, the hajj would take place from 2047 to 2052 and from 2079 to 2052 at temperatures above an “extreme danger threshold’. 2086.

Islam follows a lunar calendar, so the Hajj comes about 11 days earlier each year. In 2029, the Hajj will take place in April, and after that it will fall in winter for a number of years, when temperatures are milder.

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