More than 550 pilgrims die at Mecca as temperatures reach 50 degrees

Temperatures reached 51.8 degrees Celsius in the shade of the Grand Mosque

Muslim pilgrims move past Maqam Ibrahim (the Station of Abraham) as they perform the farewell circumambulation or 'tawaf', circling seven times around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca. Photograph: Getty Images

Hundreds of visitors have died during the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca amid scorching heat.

At least 550 people have died on hajj, diplomats have confirmed. Some 323 of the dead were Egyptians, most of whom perished due to heat-related illness.

Among the dead were 144 Indonesian citizens, 35 Tunisians, 41 Jordanians, 11 Iranians.

Temperatures reached 51.8 degrees Celsius in the shade of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi state TV said on Monday.

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The hajj, which began on Friday, is an annual pilgrimage that millions of Muslims make to Mecca to perform religious rites as taught by the Prophet Mohammad to his followers 14 centuries ago.

Stampedes, tent fires and other accidents have caused hundreds of deaths during hajj to Saudi Arabia in the past 30 years.

Each year, the event draws hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from low-income nations, “many of whom have had little, if any, pre-hajj health care”, an article in the April edition of the Journal of Infection and Public Health said.

Communicable illnesses can spread among the gathered masses, many of whom saved their entire lives for their trips and can be elderly with pre-existing health conditions, the paper added. However, the number of dead this year suggests something caused the number of deaths to swell. Already, several countries have said some of their pilgrims died because of intense heat that swept across the holy sites at Mecca, including Jordan and Tunisia.

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A 2024 study by the Journal of Travel and Medicine found that rising global temperatures may outpace strategies to deal with the heat.

An aerial view shows Mecca's Grand Mosque with the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site in the centre, during the annual hajj pilgrimage. Photograph: Getty Images

Pilgrims used umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, as Saudi authorities warned pilgrims to stay hydrated and avoid being outdoors during the hottest hours between 11am and 3 pm.

“Hajj is a difficult task, so you have to exert efforts and perform the rituals even in the conditions of heat and crowding,” an Egyptian pilgrim said.

Hajj, one of the largest mass gatherings in the world, is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford it. It will end on Wednesday.

More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the hajj in 2024, including more than 1.6 million pilgrims from 22 countries, and around 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents, according to Saudiauthorities. - AP/Reuters

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