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Pilgrimage to Mecca and heat-related deaths. Accounts of participants and families: almost every few hundred meters there was a covered body

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This year's pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca resulted in over 1,300 deaths. The cause of these tragedies was extreme heat, reaching up to about 50 degrees Celsius. The daughter of an elderly man who died in a tent near Mecca admitted that his family was “happy that he was buried in Mecca.” According to Islam, dying and being buried there is a blessing.

According to the Saudi Arabian authorities, during this year's Hajj, i.e. pilgrimage to the Kaaba temple in Mecca, 1,301 people died, and “numerous cases” of these deaths were due to high temperatures. – Pilgrims traveled long distances in direct sunlight, without adequate shelter and comfort, said Health Minister Fahad Al-Jalajel. He added that many of the dead included many elderly people and people suffering from chronic diseases

Completing the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime is a religious obligation for every adult male Muslim who is physically and financially able to do so and constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. This year, more than 1.8 million pilgrims took part, despite the heat reaching dangerous levels.

Nearly 2 million people go on pilgrimage to MeccaReuters

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“We are happy that he was buried in Mecca.”

Authorities Indonesiathe world's most populous Muslim country, said at least 215 Indonesians were among the dead.

Heru Jumartiyah told CNN that one of the dead was her 86-year-old father, Ngatijo Wongso Sentono. He died on June 17 in his tent in the town of Mina, several kilometers southeast of Mecca. This happened while he was sleeping, waiting for the noon prayers.

– He had no symptoms of the disease before. Everyone said he was healthy during the pilgrimage, she said.

Jumartiyah said Sentono signed up for the pilgrimage in 2018 and traveled to Mecca with his 83-year-old wife and neighbors from the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta. “My father was very enthusiastic about going to Hajj,” she recalled.

Dying and being buried in Mecca is considered blessed in Islam. Many Muslims make this journey at an older age, after many years of saving money for the pilgrimage. “We are happy that he is buried in Mecca,” Jumartiyah said, adding that she hopes to visit her father's grave when she finally goes on the pilgrimage herself. She added that her mother – Pariyem Prawirodinomo – is healthy and scheduled to return to Indonesia on July 7.

According to Indonesian officials, about 241,000 citizens were expected to travel to Mecca this year, the largest number in the country's history. Government data shows that most of the Indonesians who died during this year's pilgrimage were over 50 years old. According to data from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, 773 people died during the pilgrimage last year.

Extreme temperatures make pilgrims' journeys difficultReuters

Extreme temperatures kill

Extreme heat is believed to be the main cause of hundreds of deaths and other injuries reported during the pilgrimage this year. On Monday, the temperature in Mecca reached a record high of 51 degrees Celsius.

According to the authorities, the problem of deaths and other incidents is exacerbated by “unofficial” pilgrimages. Saudi Arabia's government said on Sunday that deaths from “unauthorized” travel accounted for more than four out of five recorded cases.

The country requires every pilgrim to purchase a license to legally access Mecca. These licenses can cost up to several thousand US dollars. CNN notes that “unofficial” pilgrims typically do not travel on organized tour buses equipped with air conditioning or easy access to water and food.

Fainting people and bodies covered with white cloth

As part of the pilgrimage, believers perform a number of rituals in and around the holy city of Mecca. These often involve many hours of daily walking in scorching heat. Officially licensed pilgrims also participate in these most-day-long treks.

Some participants of this year's pilgrimage complained about poor infrastructure and organization of the event. Some CNN interviewees recalled seeing worshipers lose consciousness. They also passed by bodies covered with white cloth. The 44-year-old Indonesian said he had seen many people lose their lives due to the heat. – I saw many pilgrims who died. Almost every few hundred meters there was a body covered with an ihram (white robe – ed.), he said. He reported that he did not see any health care workers or an ambulance on the road.

Will there be more “deadly” pilgrimages?

In recent decades, the sheer number of pilgrims taking part in the expedition in droves has also caused a number of fatal accidents, including an outbreak of panic that resulted in the death of hundreds of people in 2015.

However, experts warn that currently rising temperatures pose the greatest deadly threat. In the Middle East – one of the regions most exposed to the climate crisis – heat records are breaking, which increases the risk of negative events during mass gatherings.

Climatologist Maximiliano Herrera told CNN that “the deadly heat is affecting everyone.” – And unfortunately, I am not surprised by the number of deaths – he added. – Spending time outside in the extreme heat in Mecca can result in death. Therefore, I am afraid that there will be more deadly pilgrimages in the future, he said.

Main photo source: Reuters

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