Extreme heat kills hundreds of hajj pilgrims
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Extreme heat kills hundreds of hajj pilgrims

Temperatures top 51C in the shade at the Grand Mosque in Mecca

Muslim pilgrims use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun as they gather to attend noon prayers outside Nimrah Mosque at the Plain of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on June 15. (Photo: Reuters)
Muslim pilgrims use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun as they gather to attend noon prayers outside Nimrah Mosque at the Plain of Arafat, outside the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on June 15. (Photo: Reuters)

RIYADH - Hundreds of visitors have died during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca amid scorching heat, according to press reports and foreign ministries.

At least 550 people have died on hajj, diplomats told the French outlet Agence France Presse (AFP) on Tuesday. Three hundred and twenty-three of the dead were Egyptians, most of whom perished due to heat-related illness, AFP reported, citing two Arab diplomats.

Reuters was not able to immediately verify those numbers.

Stampedes, tent fires and other accidents have caused hundreds of deaths during hajj to Saudi Arabia in the past 30 years. The pilgrimage began on Friday.

Saudi state TV said temperatures rose on Monday as high as 51.8 degrees Celsius (125.2 Fahrenheit) in the shade at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

A 2024 study by the Journal of Travel and Medicine found that rising global temperatures may outpace strategies to deal with the heat. A 2019 study by Geophysical Research Letters said that as temperatures rise in arid Saudi Arabia due to climate change, pilgrims performing hajj will face “extreme danger”.

Thirty-five Tunisian citizens have died during the hajj, Tunisian news agency 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 Jordanian pilgrims on Tuesday. Earlier, the ministry said at least six Jordanian citizens died of heat stroke during the hajj.

Eleven Iranians have died and 24 were hospitalised during the pilgrimage, Iranian state news outlet IRINN said on Tuesday without giving the causes of death.

Three Senegalese citizens also died during hajj, 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.

Physical exertion

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

A Saudi health official, speaking to Reuters on Monday, before many of the reports of deaths were issued, said that authorities had not noticed any unusual fatalities 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.

“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.

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 between 11am and 3pm.

Hajj, 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 ended on Wednesday.

More than 1.8 million pilgrims were estimated to have taken part this year, according to the Saudi General Authority for Statistics.

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