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The Hajj pilgrimage death toll rises to 1,301:

Image Source: India Today

This year’s Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia turned tragic as Saudi authorities reported over 1,300 deaths due to extreme temperatures at the holy sites. Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdurrahman Al-Jalajel disclosed that a majority—83%—of the fatalities were unauthorized pilgrims who endured harsh conditions while traveling long distances to Mecca. Many of these pilgrims lacked identification documents, complicating the identification and burial processes.

Egypt suffered the highest toll with over 660 deaths, mostly among unauthorized pilgrims. Egypt responded by revoking licenses of 16 travel agencies that facilitated unauthorized travel, underscoring widespread mismanagement and regulatory violations. Despite Saudi efforts to curb unauthorized pilgrimages, including expelling tens of thousands, significant numbers managed to reach Mecca, often without proper accommodations to shield them from scorching temperatures.

The pilgrimage also saw deaths from other countries including Indonesia, India, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Malaysia, and even two US citizens, though specific causes varied. Reports pointed to the extreme heat during the Hajj days, with temperatures soaring up to 49 degrees Celsius, causing pilgrims to faint, vomit, and collapse.

The Hajj, a fundamental pillar of Islam, attracts millions annually, posing immense logistical and safety challenges despite Saudi Arabia’s substantial investments in crowd control and safety measures. However, the sheer scale and the intensifying impact of climate change could exacerbate risks in the future. Studies predict that by the mid-21st century, Hajj pilgrimages could face extreme heat conditions beyond safe thresholds, highlighting a future challenge for organizers and governments alike.

Historically, the Hajj has seen tragic incidents such as deadly stampedes and epidemics, including a 2015 stampede that claimed over 2,400 lives and a crane collapse the same year that killed 111. Each incident underscores the delicate balance between managing mass religious gatherings and ensuring the safety and well-being of pilgrims from around the world.

In conclusion, while the Hajj remains a deeply significant spiritual journey for Muslims worldwide, this year’s unprecedented death toll underscores the ongoing challenges in safeguarding pilgrims, particularly in the face of climatic changes and logistical complexities.

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