Hajj death toll reaches 550, with majority being Egyptians

RIYADH: Diplomats from various countries have reported that at least 550 pilgrims died during the hajj, highlighting the grueling nature of the pilgrimage, which unfolded in scorching temperatures this year.

At least 323 of the deceased were Egyptians, most of whom succumbed to heat-related illnesses, according to two Arab diplomats coordinating their countries’ responses.

“All of them (the Egyptians) died because of heat” except for one who sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush, one diplomat said. The total figure came from the hospital morgue in the Al-Muaisem neighborhood of Mecca.

Additionally, the diplomats reported that at least 60 Jordanians died, an increase from the official tally of 41 provided earlier on Tuesday by Amman.

These new deaths bring the total reported so far by multiple countries to 577. The diplomats confirmed that the total number of deaths at the morgue in Al-Muaisem was 550.

Earlier on Tuesday, Egypt’s foreign ministry said Cairo was collaborating with Saudi authorities on search operations for Egyptians who had gone missing during the hajj. While a ministry statement mentioned “a certain number of deaths,” it did not specify whether Egyptians were among them.

Saudi authorities have reported treating more than 2,000 pilgrims suffering from heat stress but have not updated that figure since Sunday and have not provided information on fatalities.

Last year, at least 240 pilgrims were reported dead by various countries, most of them Indonesians.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims with the means must complete it at least once. The pilgrimage is increasingly affected by climate change, according to a Saudi study published last month that indicated temperatures in the area where rituals are performed were rising by 0.4 degrees Celsius (0.72 degrees Fahrenheit) each decade.

Temperatures hit 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Monday, according to the Saudi national meteorology center.

Reporters in Mina, outside Mecca, observed pilgrims pouring bottles of water over their heads as volunteers handed out cold drinks and fast-melting chocolate ice cream to help them stay cool.

Saudi officials advised pilgrims to use umbrellas, drink plenty of water, and avoid exposure to the sun during the hottest hours of the day. However, many of the hajj rituals, including the prayers on Mount Arafat, which took place on Saturday, involve being outdoors for hours in the daytime.

Some pilgrims described seeing motionless bodies on the roadside and ambulance services that appeared overwhelmed at times.

Around 1.8 million pilgrims participated in the hajj this year, with 1.6 million of them coming from abroad, according to Saudi authorities.

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the hajj without securing official hajj visas to save money, a more dangerous undertaking because these off-the-books pilgrims cannot access air-conditioned facilities provided by Saudi authorities along the hajj route. One diplomat on Tuesday said that the Egyptian death toll was “absolutely” boosted by a large number of unregistered Egyptian pilgrims.

Earlier this month, Saudi officials said they had cleared hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Mecca ahead of the hajj.

Other countries reporting deaths during the hajj this year include Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal. Most countries have not specified how many deaths were heat-related.

Hosting the hajj is a source of prestige for the Saudi royal family, and King Salman’s title includes “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques” in the cities of Mecca and Medina.

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