Saudi Arabia Reports 1,301 Deaths During Hajj Pilgrimage Amid Extreme Heat

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Saudi Arabia reported on Sunday that 1,301 people have died during the Hajj pilgrimage, with many fatalities attributed to heat stress and unauthorized trips, CNN reported.

In a statement, the Saudi government said, “The health system addressed numerous cases of heat stress this year, with some individuals still under care. Regrettably, the number of mortalities reached 1,301.” The statement noted that 83 percent of those who died were “unauthorized to perform Hajj” and had “walked long distances under direct sunlight, without adequate shelter or comfort.” The deceased included “several elderly and chronically ill individuals,” and the families of all the dead have been identified, according to the CNN report.

Extreme heat has been identified as the main cause behind hundreds of deaths and injuries during this year’s Hajj pilgrimage, with temperatures in Mecca soaring to a record 125 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday. Various authorities have indicated that the problems were exacerbated by the number of unofficial pilgrimages.

Saudi Arabia requires each pilgrim to obtain one of the 1.8 million available licenses to legally access Mecca, the holy city central to the Hajj pilgrimage. These licenses can cost several thousand US dollars. Unlicensed pilgrims often do not travel in organized tour buses with air conditioning or have easy access to water and food supplies.

The Saudi government suggested that the unauthorized nature of many trips complicated the process of identification, delaying the official death toll. The statement read, “Identification completed, despite the initial lack of personal information or identification documents. Proper processes were followed for identification, burial, and honoring the deceased, with death certificates provided.”

Some pilgrims have criticized the poor infrastructure and organization of this year’s Hajj pilgrimage. Official tour pilgrims also spent much of their day walking outdoors in the scorching heat. Witnesses speaking to CNN reported seeing worshippers losing consciousness and passing by bodies covered in white cloth.

In response, the Egyptian government has pledged to revoke the licenses of 16 Hajj tourism firms involved in arranging illegal pilgrimages to Mecca and refer the company’s managers to the public prosecutor amid fears that hundreds of Egyptians are among the deceased. The decision was made during a cabinet meeting on Saturday after a report highlighted the dubious operations of some tourism firms. The report revealed that some operators had issued incorrect visas, forcing holders to enter Mecca “through desert paths on foot” and accused some firms of failing to provide proper accommodation, leaving people exposed to the heat.

During the meeting, Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly offered his “sincere condolences and sympathy” to the families of the deceased pilgrims and pledged to provide them with necessary support.

Hajj permits are issued to nations based on a quota system, and Saudi Arabia requires each pilgrim to acquire one of the 1.8 million available licenses to legally access Mecca. Due to the high cost of these licenses, many pilgrims attempt to access the site illegally and usually do not travel in organized tour buses with air conditioning or have easy access to water and food supplies.

The timing of the Hajj pilgrimage, based on the Islamic lunar calendar, fell during the scorching summer temperatures in Saudi Arabia in 2024. Pilgrims undertook the journey in extreme temperatures of up to 49 degrees Celsius, performing various rituals in and around Mecca, often involving many hours of walking in the heat each day.

The total number of deaths in this year’s Hajj could still rise, as governments only have records of pilgrims who registered and visited Mecca as part of their nation’s quota.

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