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Why Did Hajj Deaths Spike in Saudi Arabia’s Scorching Heat?

June 23, 2024
Hajj Deaths Spike

A shroud of concern hangs over the Hajj pilgrimage after a surge in deaths during this year’s event. Over 1,000 pilgrims perished, raising questions about the brutal heat and the role of unauthorized travel.

Heatstroke Suspected in Many Deaths

The scorching temperatures in Mecca, reaching up to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), are a prime suspect in the high death toll. While Saudi Arabia hasn’t officially commented, countries like Jordan and Tunisia directly linked the fatalities to the heatwave. Associated Press journalists observed pilgrims succumbing to the harsh conditions, with some fainting and collapsing.

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Unauthorized Pilgrims at Greater Risk

Many of the deceased were Egyptian pilgrims who reportedly traveled on unauthorized visas. This potentially left them without proper housing and access to crucial hydration during the heatstroke-inducing temperatures. The Egyptian government, in response, revoked the licenses of travel agencies accused of facilitating these unauthorized trips.

Deadly Incidents a Recurring Threat

While this year’s toll is particularly alarming, the Hajj has a history of deadly incidents. Stampedes and epidemics have marred the pilgrimage in the past, with the deadliest incident occurring in 2015 when a stampede claimed over 2,400 lives.

Climate Change Looms Large

Experts warn that climate change could make future Hajj pilgrimages even more dangerous. A 2019 study predicts temperatures exceeding safe limits for the pilgrimage in the coming decades.

Shifting Dates Offer a Glimmer of Hope

The Hajj follows a lunar calendar, resulting in the pilgrimage date moving slightly earlier each year. This could offer some temporary relief, with the Hajj scheduled for April by 2029, coinciding with milder winter months. However, long-term solutions are needed to ensure the safety of pilgrims in the face of a warming planet.

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