Pilgrims in Mecca experience extreme temperatures and 'there is talk' of hundreds of fatalities

Summer in the Northern Hemisphere has manifested itself, in the last week, in the Eastern Mediterranean basin and the Middle East, with the usual consequences for human beings. Find out more about this subject with us!

The Great Mosque of Mecca is a sacred site for Islam, visited by millions of people annually.

Monday, 17 June, 2024, will go down in Saudi Arabia's history as one of the hottest days on record. The city of Mecca, about 100 km east of Jeddah (Jeddah), which is the main holy city of Islam, registered 51.8 ºC, a record temperature that endangered the health of a population that is used to extreme temperatures.

There are countless reports of volunteers who have helped pilgrims to cool off, namely by distributing bottles of water and other cold drinks, as well as fruit and ice creams.

These temperature values are recorded during the week of the hajj (or haje), the most important pilgrimage in Islam, to the sacred temple in Mecca. This religious event is extremely important for practitioners, as it is considered one of the five pillars of Islam and therefore the pilgrimage must be made at least once in a lifetime, if every adult Muslim has the means to do so.

Effects on the health of pilgrims

The hajj began on 14 June (Friday) and ended on 19 June, and represents the passage through Mecca of between 2 and 3 million pilgrims. During the weekend alone, Saudi authorities claimed that they had assisted more than 2,000 people due to health problems related to heat stress.

The Haje can only be performed once a year, between the eighth and thirteenth day of the month of Dhu al-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar.

The extreme temperatures combined with the harshness of the pilgrimage caused, according to some sources, more than 500 fatalities. However, these data are not fully accepted, as the number of victims differs greatly from the source: between 40 and 60 Jordanians may have succumbed to the heat and it is believed that at least 300 pilgrims of Egyptian nationality died. There is still an uncertain number of missing pilgrims, which only deepens the doubts regarding the real number of fatalities.

The city of Jeddah is close to Mecca. With its typically desert climate, this city has also recorded record temperature values in recent days.

Climate change and religion

The Arabian Peninsula has experienced some climate changes in the last decade. Pilgrimages to Mecca have felt the changes, since according to a Saudi study, temperatures in that region rose by an average of 0.4 ºC per decade, culminating in more than 51 ºC last Monday. There are countless reports of volunteers who have helped pilgrims to cool off, namely by distributing bottles of water and other cold drinks, as well as fruit and ice creams.

This help meets the recommendations of health and civil authorities that recommend the use of umbrellas to protect from the Sun, drinking large amounts of water and minimising exposure to the Sun during the hottest hours of the day. Another problem identified is related to pilgrims who do not register and do not apply for a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, following the hajj, with the aim of saving some money. If, on the one hand, the economic aspect wins, these pilgrims are automatically excluded from reception facilities, equipped with air conditioning.

Every man or woman who has performed the Haje is called haji or has, respectively, achieved a status of respect in the community and family.

In addition to Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian pilgrims, there are other nationalities that may have missing pilgrims, namely from Indonesia, Iran and Senegal. However, a new estimate suggests that the number of deaths could be close to 1000, something that should give pause to those who are still skeptical about climate change.