Saudi Arabia

Hajj 2024: 8 Countries Confirm Pilgrim Deaths As Tally Crosses 1,300

More than 1,300 pilgrims reportedly died in this year’s Haj as extreme heat swept across Saudi Arabia and the holy city of Makkah.

Saudi health minister Fahad Al Jalajel earlier confirmed a total of 1,301 deaths — caused by pilgrims “walking long distances under direct sunlight without adequate shelter or comfort”. The fatalities also included elderly people and those suffering from chronic illnesses, he added.

Some 83 per cent of those who died were among those people not authorised to make the annual pilgrimage, the minister said.

Temperatures that hit high of 51.8℃ hammered the nearly two million people who flocked the holy city Makkah for this year’s Haj. It was “extremely challenging”, said pilgrims who reported seeing “people fainting all around”.

Over the past few days, authorities from at least eight countries have confirmed deaths among their pilgrims:

Egypt: 672

Majority of those who died were Egyptians, with figures hitting 672, security and medical sources saying the toll told Reuters. Twenty-five were still missing.

An Egyptian crisis unit tasked with investigating the situation has suspended the licences of 16 tourism companies, accusing them of being responsible for deaths it said were mainly among pilgrims not registered under the official system.

The agencies are being blamed for sending pilgrims to Saudi on personal visit visas, rather than Haj visas.

These companies did not provide the pilgrims with services of any kind, including medical, the authority said, without naming the firms involved.

Indonesia: 236

A total of 236 Indonesians died, according to data from the Southeast Asian country’s government.

The data, however, did not specify if any of the deaths were due to heat stroke.

Jordan: 99

Some 99 Jordanian pilgrims died while perfoming Haj, according to the kingdom’s foreign ministry.

Search is still ongoing as a few more remain missing. So far, out of 112 reported missing, 97 had been accounted for, local media reported.

Companies found to have facilitated the trips of unauthorised pilgrims had been suspended in the country. About 28 people were also accused of fraud, according to reports.

Tunisia: 49

At least 49 Tunisians died in Saudi Arabia during the past week, and families are still searching for several missing people.

The fatalities have sparked widespread criticism in the African country — prompting Tunisian President Kais Saied to sack Brahim Chaibi, the minister of religious affairs.

India: 98

The latest death toll among Indian nationals was 98, according to the South Asian country’s External Affairs agency

“Some are because of natural causes and we had many old-age pilgrims. And some are due to the weather conditions, that’s what we assume,” a diplomat in Saudi Arabia, who spoke on condition of anonymity, earlier told AFP.

Other countries

Iran, Senegal, and the Philippines have also reported deaths.

For Muslims, Hajj — one of the five pillars of Islam — is a profound spiritual experience that wipes away sins and brings them closer to God. While the pilgrimage is an annual affair, many wait years for their turn as only a limited number of people from every country are allowed to go on the sacred journey.

Haj permits are allocated to countries on a quota system and distributed to individuals through a draw.

Even for those who can obtain them, the steep costs spur many to attempt the hajj without a permit, though they risk arrest and deportation if caught.

For the past several years, the mainly outdoor rituals have fallen during the sweltering Saudi summer.

The timing of Haj moves forward about 11 days each year in the Gregorian calendar, meaning that next year, it will take place earlier in June, potentially in cooler conditions.

A 2019 study by the journal Geophysical Research Letters said because of climate change, heat stress for Haj pilgrims will exceed the “extreme danger threshold” from 2047 to 2052 and 2079 to 2086, “with increasing frequency and intensity as the century progresses”.

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Khaleej Times

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