Soaring temperatures scorch pilgrims on Haj in Saudi Arabia


  • World
  • Tuesday, 18 Jun 2024

A Muslim pilgrim pours water on his head to cool down from the heat, as he takes part in the annual haj pilgrimage in Mina, Saudi Arabia, June 17, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Torokman

RIYADH/MINA (Reuters) - Throngs of tightly packed pilgrims struggled through searing heat which has claimed lives during the annual Haj pilgrimage as temperatures reached 51.8 degrees Celsius (125.2 Fahrenheit) in the shade of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi state TV said on Tuesday.

Six Jordanian citizens died of heat stroke during Haj, the Jordanian foreign ministry said. It later said the death toll had risen to 14 but it gave no reason for the subsequent deaths.

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

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

One hundred and thirty six Indonesian citizens died during Haj, three of heat stroke, according to an Indonesion health official, Le Monde reported on Monday.

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 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".

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 performing Haj during extremely high temperatures.

"We haven't noticed, thank God, any abnormal or deviation from the normal numbers of morbidities and mortalities," said Jameel Abualenain, head of the Health Ministry's emergencies directorate, said.

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, while Saudi authorities have issued warning pilgrims to stay hydrated and avoid being outdoors during the hottest hours of the day between 11 a.m. (0800 GMT) and 3 p.m.

Haj, one of the largest mass gatherings in the world, is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim 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.

(Editing by Michael Georgy)

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