Hajj 2024: Diplomatic Reports Confirm 550 Deaths from Intense Heat as Return Commences

In an alarming turn of events, intense heat has claimed the lives of at least 550 pilgrims during this year's Hajj, diplomats reported on Tuesday. The pilgrimage, which saw around 1.8 million participants, including 1.6 million from abroad, was marked by sweltering temperatures that proved fatal for many.

Sweltering Temperatures and Heat-Related Deaths

The majority of the deaths, including 323 Egyptians, were attributed to heat-related illnesses, according to Arab diplomats working with AFP. The Al-Muaisem hospital morgue in Makkah confirmed the overall tally. Among the fatalities was an Egyptian pilgrim who died from injuries sustained in a minor crowd incident.

Jordanian officials also reported an increase in deaths, with 60 pilgrims succumbing to the extreme conditions, up from an earlier official count of 41. These figures bring the total deaths reported by multiple countries to 577, based on AFP's count.

Challenging Conditions Highlighted by Climate Change

The Hajj pilgrimage, a fundamental practice in Islam, is increasingly affected by climate change. A recent Saudi study noted a rise in temperatures in the ritual areas. On Monday, the Saudi national meteorology center recorded temperatures soaring to a staggering 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Saudi authorities made significant efforts to address the heat stress, treating over 2,000 pilgrims. However, specific updates on fatalities have not been provided since Sunday. Last year, various countries reported 240 deaths among pilgrims, predominantly Indonesians.

Struggles with Overwhelmed Services

Despite advisories to use umbrellas, stay hydrated, and avoid the sun during peak hours, pilgrims faced prolonged outdoor exposure during rituals such as prayers on Mount Arafat. Reports indicated challenges with overwhelmed ambulance services and instances of pilgrims succumbing to the extreme heat along the route.

An Egyptian official highlighted that many unregistered Egyptian pilgrims contributed to chaos in camps, resulting in inadequate services such as food, water, and cooling facilities, which likely exacerbated the death toll from heat-related causes.

Unauthorized Pilgrims and Compounding Risks

Saudi authorities had earlier cleared hundreds of thousands of unauthorized pilgrims from Makkah ahead of the Hajj. Unauthorized pilgrims, who attempted the pilgrimage due to the high costs associated with official Hajj visas, were at greater risk as they lacked access to Saudi-provided amenities.

Countries including Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal also reported deaths during this year's pilgrimage, although specific details on heat-related fatalities were generally not disclosed.

Health Plans and Virtual Consultations

Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdul Rahman Al-Jalajel noted that successful health plans during the Hajj prevented major outbreaks of disease and managed over 5,800 virtual consultations primarily for heat-related illnesses, ensuring timely medical intervention.

Completion of Hajj Rituals and Departure

Muslims who gathered for the Hajj pilgrimage from across the globe are set to start departing from Saudi Arabia on June 20 after completing rituals at the Kaaba with the conclusion of the three-day Tashreeq ritual. After performing Hajj rituals, pilgrims began heading towards Makkah after completing Rami al-Jamarat, the symbolic stoning of the devil, from Mina during the final days of the holy pilgrimage.

Before returning to their residences, pilgrims also performed the farewell circumambulation or "tawaf." Local pilgrims also started departing for Jeddah, Makkah, Taif, Madinah, Riyadh, and other cities. Many will visit Madinah to offer prayers at Masjid-e-Nabawi and pay their respects at the Roza-e-Rasool (PBUH), alongside other holy sites such as Masjid-e-Quba, Masjid Al-Qiblatain, and Sab'ah mosques.

Return Flights and the Conclusion of Hajj

The national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), has announced its flight operations to bring back pilgrims from Saudi Arabia starting June 20. According to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Pakistan operated a total of 259 special flights to transport over 68,000 pilgrims registered with the government scheme last month who attended one of the world's largest religious gatherings in Saudi Arabia.

As the Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, concludes, the immense challenges faced this year underline the growing impact of climate change on this sacred pilgrimage. While the devotion and faith of the pilgrims remain unwavering, the need for increased measures to ensure their safety in the face of rising temperatures becomes ever more critical.

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