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Death toll from Hajj heat wave surpasses 900

Death toll from Hajj heat wave surpasses 900 Muslim pilgrim splashes water on his head to cools off at the base of Saudi Arabia's Mount Arafat, Saudi Arabia on June 15, 2024. (AFP Photo)
By Agence France-Presse
Jun 19, 2024 8:07 PM

The death toll from this year’s hajj pilgrimage has risen past 900, as friends and family frantically search for missing loved ones. The soaring temperatures in Mecca, which reached 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit) on Monday, have contributed significantly to the fatalities during the annual Islamic ritual.

An estimated 1.8 million pilgrims from around the world, many of them elderly or infirm, braved the intense Saudi summer heat for the days-long pilgrimage, predominantly held outdoors. The heat has proved particularly deadly, with a significant number of deaths attributed to heat exhaustion.

Egypt has been notably affected, with an Arab diplomat reporting that the number of Egyptian fatalities has increased to “at least 600,” up from over 300 the previous day. This brings the total number of reported deaths to 922, according to AFP based on figures released by various countries.

Social media platforms like Facebook have been inundated with photos of missing pilgrims and pleas for information. Ghada Mahmoud Ahmed Dawood, an Egyptian pilgrim, has been unaccounted for since Saturday.

A family friend in Saudi Arabia, who requested anonymity, reported, “I received a call from her daughter in Egypt begging me to put any post on Facebook that can help track her or find her. The good news is that until now we did not find her on the list of the dead people, which gives us hope she is still alive.”

The hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, must be completed at least once by all Muslims who have the means. The event’s timing, determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, has coincided with the sweltering Saudi summer in recent years. A Saudi study published last month indicated that temperatures in the area are rising by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade.

Fatalities have also been reported from Jordan, Indonesia, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, and Iraq’s Kurdistan region, though many authorities have not specified the exact causes of death. Saudi Arabia has yet to provide a comprehensive tally of fatalities, though it reported over 2,700 cases of heat exhaustion on Sunday alone.

One Arab diplomat revealed that Jordanian officials are currently searching for 20 missing pilgrims, while 80 others initially reported missing were located in hospitals. An Asian diplomat indicated that around 68 Indian pilgrims had died, with others still missing, attributing some deaths to natural causes and the severe weather conditions.

The pilgrimage’s risks are exacerbated for those attempting it without official permits, a situation that has become more common since Saudi Arabia introduced a general tourism visa in 2019. Many of the deceased Egyptians were unregistered pilgrims, according to an Arab diplomat.

Even those with permits are not immune. Houria Ahmad Abdallah Sharif, a 70-year-old Egyptian, has been missing since Saturday after going to clean her abaya at Mount Arafat. “We’ve searched for her from door to door and we have not found her until now,” said a friend, who wished to remain anonymous. “We know many who are still searching for their family members and relatives and they are not finding them, or if they are finding them they are finding them dead.”

As the search for the missing continues, families and friends remain hopeful, clinging to any signs of life amid the mounting tragedy of this year’s hajj.

Last Updated:  Jun 19, 2024 8:59 PM