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Monday July 22, 2024

Haj death toll tops 1,000 after extreme heat

Death toll from this year´s Haj has exceeded 1,000, an AFP tally said on Thursday

By AFP & APP
June 21, 2024
Muslim pilgrims walk on the second day of the stoning of the devil ritual, during the annual haj pilgrimage, in Mina, Saudi Arabia, June 17, 2024. — Reuters
Muslim pilgrims walk on the second day of the stoning of the devil ritual, during the annual haj pilgrimage, in Mina, Saudi Arabia, June 17, 2024. — Reuters 

RIYADH/ISLAMABAD: The death toll from this year´s Haj has exceeded 1,000, an AFP tally said on Thursday, more than half unregistered worshippers who performed the pilgrimage in extreme heat in Saudi Arabia.

The new deaths reported on Thursday included 58 from Egypt, according to an Arab diplomat who provided a breakdown showing that of 658 Egyptians who died, 630 were unregistered pilgrims.

Around 10 countries have reported 1,081 deaths during the pilgrimage.

The national meteorological centre reported a high of 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) this week at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

A Saudi study published last month said temperatures in the area are rising 0.4 degrees Celsius each decade.

Saudi authorities reported clearing hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Makkah this month, but it appears many still participated in the main rites which began last Friday.

This group was more vulnerable, because without official permits they could not access air-conditioned spaces provided for the 1.8 million authorised pilgrims to cool down.

“People were tired after being chased by security forces before Arafat day. They were exhausted,” one Arab diplomat told AFP on Thursday of Saturday´s day-long outdoor prayers that marked the Haj´s climax.

The diplomat said the main cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims was the heat, which triggered complications related to high blood pressure and other issues.

Egyptian officials were visiting hospitals to obtain information and help Egyptian pilgrims get medical care, the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, there are large numbers of Egyptian citizens who are not registered in Haj databases, which requires double the effort and a longer time to search for missing persons and find their relatives,” it said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has ordered that a “crisis cell” headed by the prime minister follow up on the deaths of the country´s pilgrims.

Sisi stressed “the need for immediate coordination with the Saudi authorities to facilitate receiving the bodies of the deceased and streamline the process,” said a statement from his office.

More fatalities were also confirmed on Thursday by Pakistan and Indonesia.

Out of around 150,000 pilgrims, Pakistan has so far recorded 58 deaths, a diplomat told AFP.

“I think given the number of people, given the weather, this is just natural,” the diplomat said.

Indonesia, which had around 240,000 pilgrims, raised its death toll to 183, its religious affairs ministry said, compared with 313 deaths recorded last year.

Deaths have also been confirmed by Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan and Iraq´s autonomous Kurdistan region. In many cases, authorities have not specified the cause.

Two diplomats told AFP on Thursday that Saudi authorities had begun the burial process for dead pilgrims.

“The burial is done by the Saudi authorities. They have their own system so we just follow that,” said one diplomat, who said his country was working to notify loved ones as best it could.

Jordan´s foreign ministry said on Thursday that Saudi authorities had granted 68 permits for Jordanian pilgrims to be buried in Makkah.

16 Jordanians remain missing and 22 are in hospital, including seven who are in critical condition, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia has not provided information on fatalities, though it reported more than 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone.

At least 35 Pakistanis have lost their lives while performing Haj this year due to extreme weather conditions, the Ministry of Religious Affairs confirmed on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif on Thursday expressed deep sorrow and grief over the loss of precious lives of Hujaj, including some from Pakistan.