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Tragic heatwave in Mecca: Over 550 Hajj pilgrims die as temperatures soar above 50°C

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  • Over 550 Hajj pilgrims died in Mecca due to extreme heat, with temperatures exceeding 50°C.
  • The majority of fatalities were heat-related, highlighting the severe impact of climate change on the pilgrimage.
  • Saudi authorities treated over 2,000 pilgrims for heat stress and provided virtual consultations to mitigate health risks.

This year's Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca has been marked by the tragic deaths of over 550 pilgrims due to extreme heat. Temperatures soared above 50°C (122°F), creating perilous conditions for the millions of Muslims who traveled to perform the sacred rituals. The majority of these fatalities were attributed to heat-related illnesses, underscoring the growing impact of climate change on this annual religious event.

According to diplomats, the Al-Muaisem morgue in Mecca reported a total of 550 deaths, with 323 of the deceased being Egyptians. "All of them died because of heat," one diplomat stated, highlighting the severe conditions faced by the pilgrims. Additionally, at least 60 Jordanians perished, surpassing the initial official tally of 41 deaths reported earlier by Amman.

The Saudi national meteorology center reported that temperatures at the Grand Mosque in Mecca reached a staggering 51.8°C (125°F) on Monday. This extreme heat has been linked to climate change, with a recent Saudi study indicating that temperatures in the region where Hajj rituals are performed are rising by 0.4°C (0.72°F) per decade.

Saudi authorities have been proactive in treating over 2,000 pilgrims for heat stress, although updates on fatalities have not been provided since Sunday. The Saudi health minister, Fahd bin Abdul Rahman Al-Jalajel, stated that health plans for the Hajj had "been successfully carried out," preventing major outbreaks of disease and other public health threats. A virtual hospital provided consultations to over 5,800 pilgrims, primarily for heat-related illnesses, enabling prompt intervention and mitigating the potential for a surge in cases.

Despite these efforts, the extreme heat posed significant challenges. Pilgrims were advised to use umbrellas, stay hydrated, and avoid sun exposure during peak hours. However, many Hajj rituals, such as the prayers on Mount Arafat, require prolonged outdoor stays, making it difficult to avoid the heat. AFP journalists in Mina observed pilgrims pouring water over their heads and receiving cold drinks and ice cream from volunteers to help cope with the scorching temperatures.

The Hajj pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it. This year, approximately 1.8 million pilgrims participated, with 1.6 million coming from abroad. However, tens of thousands of unregistered pilgrims attempted to perform the Hajj without securing official visas, posing additional risks as they lacked access to air-conditioned facilities provided by Saudi authorities along the route.

The tragic events of this year's Hajj highlight the urgent need for enhanced safety measures and climate adaptation strategies to protect pilgrims from the increasing dangers posed by global warming. As temperatures continue to rise, the Saudi authorities and the global Muslim community must work together to ensure the safety and well-being of all who undertake this sacred journey.

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