Death toll of Pakistani Hajj pilgrims hits 58

Global casualties cross 1,000 due to extreme heat

Our Correspondent June 21, 2024


The death toll of Pakistani pilgrims in this year’s Hajj hit 58 as the total from around the globe exceeded 1,000, according to an AFP tally on Thursday because of performing the religious obligation in extreme heat in Saudi Arabia – almost half of them unregistered ones.

A day earlier, the director general of Pakistan’s Hajj Mission, Abdul Wahab Soomro, said as of 4pm on June 18, a total of 35 Pakistani casualties had been reported.

He added that 20 Pakistani pilgrims had died in Makkah, six in Madina, four in Mina, three in Arafat, and two in Muzdalifah.

A spokesperson for the religious affairs ministry on Thursday said the extreme heat, with temperatures reaching 50 degrees Celsius, made this Hajj particularly challenging.

He dismissed social media allegations of abandoning pilgrims as “baseless”, emphasising their reliance on information provided by the Saudi authorities that was subsequently verified.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has expressed sorrow over the death of the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

According to a statement issued by the PM’s Office, the premier prayed for the patience and strength for the bereaved families of the deceased pilgrims.

He directed that arrangements should be made to transport the bodies of the deceased pilgrims to Pakistan.

The premier also instructed the religious affairs ministry and officials at the Pakistani Embassy to provide all necessary facilities to the pilgrims.

He also directed that all medical facilities must be ensured for the pilgrims admitted to hospitals.

The new deaths reported included 58 from Egypt, according to an Arab diplomat who provided a breakdown showing that of 658 total dead from that country, 630 were unregistered.

Overall, around 10 countries have reported 1,081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage.

The figures have come via official statements or from diplomats working on their countries’ responses.

The national meteorological centre in Saudi Arabia reported a high of 51.8 degree Celsius this week at Makkah’s Grand Mosque.

According to a Saudi study published last month, temperatures in the area are rising 0.4C each decade.

Each year, tens of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Hajj through irregular channels as they cannot afford the often costly official permits.

Saudi authorities reported clearing hundreds of thousands of unregistered pilgrims from Makkah this month, but it appears many still participated in the main rites.

This group was more vulnerable to the heat because, without official permits, they could not access air-conditioned spaces provided by Saudi authorities for the 1.8 million authorised pilgrims to cool down after hours of walking and praying outside.

“People were tired after being chased by security forces before Arafat day. They were exhausted,” an Arab diplomat told AFP on Thursday, referring to Saturday’s day-long outdoor prayers that marked the Hajj’s climax.

The diplomat said the main cause of death among Egyptian pilgrims was the heat, which triggered complications related to high blood pressure and other issues.

Egyptian officials were visiting hospitals to obtain data on Egyptian pilgrims and help those still alive to get medical care, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

“However, there are large numbers of Egyptian citizens who are not registered in Hajj databases, which requires double the effort and a longer time to search for missing persons and find their relatives,” the ministry said.

Indonesia, which had around 240,000 pilgrims, raised its death toll to 183, according to its ministry of religious affairs, compared with 313 deaths recorded last year.

Deaths have also been confirmed by Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.

In many cases, authorities have not specified the cause.

Meanwhile, friends and family members have been searching for pilgrims who are still missing.

On Wednesday they scoured hospitals and pleaded online for news, fearing the worst during the scorching temperatures.

Two diplomats told AFP on Thursday that Saudi authorities had begun the burial process for dead pilgrims, which involved cleaning up the bodies, putting them in white burial cloth and taking them to be interred in individual graves.

“The burial is done by the Saudi authorities. They have their own system so we just follow that,” said one diplomat, who pointed out that his country was working to notify loved ones of the dead as best it could.

The other diplomat said that given the number of fatalities it would be impossible to notify many families ahead of time, especially in Egypt which accounted for so many of the dead.

Saudi Arabia has not provided information on fatalities, though it reported more than 2,700 cases of “heat exhaustion” on Sunday alone.

Last year various countries reported more than 300 deaths during Hajj, mostly Indonesians.

A 2019 study by the journal Geophysical Research Letters said because of climate change, heat stress for Hajj pilgrims would exceed the “extreme danger threshold” from 2047 to 2052 and 2079 to 2086, “with increasing frequency and intensity as the century progresses”.

(With input from AFP)


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