Hajj Heatwave Tragedy: 58 Pakistani Pilgrims Among Over 1,000 Dead

The annual Hajj pilgrimage, a journey of spiritual significance for millions of Muslims, has been overshadowed by a devastating heatwave that has claimed the lives of 58 Pakistani pilgrims and over 1,000 people globally. This year’s pilgrimage, undertaken in Saudi Arabia's sweltering heat, has turned into a dire scenario for many, particularly those unregistered pilgrims who lacked access to crucial amenities.

According to an AFP tally, the death toll has crossed 1,000 globally, with Pakistani casualties standing at 58. These deaths have been attributed to the extreme heat, with temperatures soaring to a blistering 51.8 degrees Celsius. Saudi Arabia’s national meteorological center recorded this temperature at Makkah’s Grand Mosque, one of the hottest spots this year.

The director general of Pakistan’s Hajj Mission, Abdul Wahab Soomro, confirmed on June 18 that 35 Pakistani pilgrims had died. His update noted that 20 had died in Makkah, six in Madina, four in Mina, three in Arafat, and two in Muzdalifah. These areas are key sites for the pilgrimage rituals.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed his deep sorrow over the loss of Pakistani pilgrims. He extended his prayers for the bereaved families and directed that the necessary arrangements be made to transport the bodies back to Pakistan. He also instructed the religious affairs ministry and the Pakistani Embassy in Saudi Arabia to ensure that all necessary facilities and medical care are provided to the pilgrims.

The extreme heatwave has particularly impacted unregistered pilgrims, who, without official permits, were unable to access air-conditioned rest areas designated for the 1.8 million authorized pilgrims. Many of these unregistered pilgrims attempted to perform the Hajj through irregular channels due to the high cost of official permits. This made them more vulnerable as they endured long hours of walking and praying outside without respite from the heat.

A spokesperson for the religious affairs ministry dismissed allegations circulating on social media that the pilgrims were abandoned, emphasizing that their actions were based on verified information from Saudi authorities.

The situation is dire for other nations as well. Egypt reported a significant number of deaths, with 58 Egyptian pilgrims confirmed dead due to the heat. An Arab diplomat disclosed that out of the 658 Egyptian fatalities, 630 were unregistered pilgrims. These deaths were primarily due to heat-induced complications such as high blood pressure and other related health issues.

In response, Egyptian officials have been visiting hospitals to gather data and assist living pilgrims in obtaining medical care. The Egyptian foreign ministry highlighted the challenges in identifying and assisting unregistered pilgrims, as they are not in the Hajj databases, making it a time-consuming process to locate missing persons and inform their families.

Indonesia, which had about 240,000 pilgrims, reported 183 deaths, a significant number but lower than the 313 deaths recorded last year. Other countries including Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan, and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region also reported fatalities, although specific causes were not always detailed.

The Saudi authorities have begun the burial process for deceased pilgrims, ensuring the traditional cleaning and shrouding procedures are followed. The high number of fatalities has made it challenging to notify families promptly, especially in countries with large numbers of unregistered pilgrims.

Climate change is exacerbating the dangers of performing Hajj, with studies predicting that heat stress will surpass the “extreme danger threshold” in the coming decades. This year’s pilgrimage serves as a stark reminder of these growing challenges.

The Hajj, a time of spiritual reflection and community for Muslims worldwide, has been marred by this tragedy. As families mourn their lost loved ones, the need for better preparations and accommodations in the face of extreme weather becomes ever more apparent.

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