Over 550 hajj pilgrims die in Mecca due to extreme heat

At least 550 pilgrims have died during this year’s hajj, highlighting the pilgrimage’s challenging nature, which once again took place in extreme heat. According to two Arab diplomats coordinating their countries’ responses, at least 323 of the deceased were Egyptians, most of whom died from heat-related illnesses. “All of them [the Egyptians] died because of heat,” except for one who died from injuries in a minor crowd crush, one diplomat stated, citing data from the Al-Muaisem hospital morgue in Mecca.

The diplomats also reported that at least 60 Jordanians had died, an increase from the 41 deaths officially reported earlier on Tuesday by Amman. These new numbers bring the total reported fatalities to 577, based on an AFP tally. The morgue in Al-Muaisem, one of Mecca’s largest, recorded 550 deaths.

Earlier on Tuesday, Egypt’s foreign ministry announced that it was working with Saudi authorities to search for missing Egyptians. While the ministry acknowledged “a certain number of deaths,” it did not confirm if Egyptians were among them. Saudi authorities have treated over 2,000 pilgrims for heat stress but have not updated this figure or provided information on fatalities since Sunday.

Last year, various countries reported at least 240 pilgrim deaths, predominantly Indonesians. The hajj, a mandatory religious duty for Muslims who can undertake it, is increasingly affected by climate change, as highlighted by a recent Saudi study showing temperatures in ritual areas rising by 0.4°C each decade. On Monday, temperatures at the Grand Mosque in Mecca soared to 51.8°C, according to the Saudi national meteorology center.

AFP journalists in Mina, near Mecca, observed pilgrims cooling themselves with water and receiving cold drinks and ice cream from volunteers. Saudi officials advised pilgrims to use umbrellas, stay hydrated, and avoid sun exposure during peak heat. Despite these precautions, many hajj rituals require long hours outdoors, such as the prayers on Mount Arafat on Saturday. Some pilgrims reported seeing unresponsive bodies along the road and overburdened ambulance services.

About 1.8 million pilgrims participated in this year’s hajj, with 1.6 million coming from abroad. Many pilgrims attempt to perform the hajj without official visas to save money, but this increases risks as they cannot access the air-conditioned facilities provided by Saudi authorities. One diplomat noted that the high number of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims likely contributed to the death toll. Earlier this month, Saudi officials removed hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca before the hajj.

Other countries, including Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal, also reported deaths during this year’s pilgrimage. Most have not specified how many deaths were heat-related. Hosting the hajj is a significant honor for the Saudi royal family, and King Salman holds the title “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” in Mecca and Medina. On Tuesday, Saudi Health Minister Fahd bin Abdul Rahman Al-Jalajel announced that health plans for the hajj had been successfully implemented, preventing major disease outbreaks and other health threats, according to the official Saudi Press Agency. A virtual hospital provided consultations for over 5,800 pilgrims, mainly for heat-related issues, enabling timely interventions and preventing a surge in cases.

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