DECRYPTION. Hundreds of deaths in Mecca: heat, overpopulation… why so many deaths of pilgrims this year?

DECRYPTION. Hundreds of deaths in Mecca: heat, overpopulation… why so many deaths of pilgrims this year?
DECRYPTION. Hundreds of deaths in Mecca: heat, overpopulation… why so many deaths of pilgrims this year?

the essential
Every year, millions of Muslims participate in Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that it is obligatory to carry out once in one’s life if one respects the five pillars of Islam. This year, heat, overcrowding and sanitary conditions criticized by some have caused nearly 1,300 deaths. Explanations.

“The season of Hajj “is free from any epidemic or threat to public health, despite the large number of pilgrims and the challenges posed by high temperatures,” Saudi Health Minister Fahad al-Jallayel said in a statement. Yet, nearly 1,300 people lost their lives this year while participating in the pilgrimage to Mecca. A heavy toll which can be explained by several factors.

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Mecca pilgrimage: more than 1,000 pilgrims died in intense heat

It was over 40°C every day

The first mortality factor is the stifling heat which reigned in Saudi Arabia between June 14 and 19, 2024, the official dates of Hajj. According to BBC who investigated the subject, temperatures rose to nearly 52°C in the shade, exposing bodies to a very dangerous risk of sunstroke and dehydration. Reuters gave the floor to Carl-Friedrich Schleussner of Climate Analytics, he estimates that a 1.5°C increase in global temperatures could lead to a 5-fold increase in the risk of insolation in the future.

Many old and weak people participate in the pilgrimage

It is also important to know that the Hajj has a cost: many Muslims save their entire lives to be able to take part before dying. Result ? Many elderly people embark on the pilgrimage routes, without having the physical resources to face the heat or support the effort required by this walk.

Pilgrims defraud and participate without official permit

To be able to enter the sacred enclosure of the Kaaba [le cube, en arabe], it is mandatory to have an official permit. However, according to the Saudi authorities, more and more people are trying to circumvent the system. Problem, tents, food and water are provided for a given number of pilgrims… People who do not have permits take advantage of these resources without having the right to them, to the detriment of officially registered pilgrims. This question of “Hajj unofficial” would contribute to excess mortality, according to the BBC.

Dangerous accommodation conditions?

“Many fainted due to overcrowding and overheating in the tents,” as participants told our British colleagues. Overcrowded, the tents would also be poorly cooled if these pilgrims are to be believed. Furthermore, voices are being raised this year to denounce the compulsory circuits. Too long, without a water point, sometimes blocked in the direction of return, the circuits set up by the organizers would have caused participants to take risks. “We were forced to follow a seven-kilometer route without water or shade. The police had set up roadblocks, forcing us to walk long distances unnecessarily,” people told the BBC.

Help too slow?

The health system appears massive: 189 hospitals, 3,500 beds in health centers and mobile clinics as well as 40,000 members of medical, technical and administrative staff as well as volunteers, according to official figures from the Saudi government. But it is in reality considered insufficient by some observers. People in difficulty could not be taken care of in time according to the BBC investigation.

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