Home Explainer Haj Deaths: Over 1300 Pilgrims Suffer In Extreme Heat In Saudi Arabia

Haj Deaths: Over 1300 Pilgrims Suffer In Extreme Heat In Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has confirmed that over 1300 people have died during this year’s Haj pilgrimage. The most startling part of his statement though was that 83 percent of those who died were not in the list of pilgrims authorised to make the trip. Saudi health minister Fahad Al-Jalajel has put the official casualty figure at 1301. Extreme heat has taken a severe toll on this year’s pilgrimage. This is the first time Riyadh has put out a public statement on the death toll this year. The health minister said the deaths were caused by pilgrims “walking long distances under direct sunlight without adequate shelter or comfort”. He also said among those who died were elderly people and those who had chronic diseases.

Nearly 2 million pilgrims make the annual trip to Mecca. This year, temperatures in Saudi have reached a blistering 51.8 degrees Celsius and even though there were some arrangements like these sprinklers along the route, the heat took its toll. Two of the busiest days of the Haj also coincided with severe heat. 15 June was when pilgrims gathered to pray on Mount Arafat. The prayers go on for hours. The next day, June 16 is when pilgrims participated in the ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual in Mina. As per data compiled by Reuters, the maximum number of pilgrims who have died this year during the pilgrimage are from Egypt. At least 672 Egyptians have been confirmed dead. Another 25 are missing. The Egyptian government has suspended the tourism licenses of 16 companies. These companies have been accused of being responsible for the death of those who were not part of the official list of pilgrims.

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Every year, Haj permits are given to countries as per a quota system. The names of the individual pilgrims are decided on the basis of a lottery system. Unscrupulous travel operators have been accused of sending pilgrims on a personal visit visa but they are not allowed to enter Mecca for the pilgrimage. Many of the deaths are suspected to be from this lot of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims. Besides Egyptians, 236 Indonesians, 98 Indians are among those who died during the pilgrimage this year. Others include citizens from Jordan, Senegal, Iran and Tunisia.