How 1,000 pilgrims, including over 98 Indians, died during Hajj in Saudi Arabia

Many of the deceased were unregistered pilgrims from Egypt and Jordan

SAUDI-RELIGION-ISLAM-HAJJ Muslim pilgrims use umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun as they arrive at the base of Mount Arafat, also known as Jabal al-Rahma or Mount of Mercy, during the annual hajj pilgrimage | AFP

As shocking figures of deaths during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia come out, reports quoting witnesses say there weren't enough medics to tend to the over 1.8 million people who took part in the pilgrimage this year. Though Saudi Arabia puts the official death toll from this year’s Hajj pilgrimage to almost 500,  reports quoting uofficial sources say over 1000 people have died in the sweltering heat and extreme weather conditions.

These include 98 people from India. According to the Ministry of External Affairs, over 1,75,000 Indian pilgrims visited Hajj so far and 98 died. "These deaths have happened on account of natural illness, natural causes, chronic illness, and old age. On the day of Arafat, six Indians died, and four Indians have died on account of accidents," the spokesperson said.

However, the largest toll is from Egypt where, according to AFP, 658 people died. While Indonesia said over 200 of its citizens died, Tunisia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Sudan and Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region have also confirmed deaths. The US believes several Americans died, the Wall Street Journal reported. 

What caused the deaths?

According to eyewitnesses, there were not enough medics or basic facilities to protect Hajj pilgrims from the effects of the sweltering heat in Saudi Arabia last week, reported CNN. The country witnessed unprecedented heatwaves in Saudi Arabia with the temperature hovering around 51 degrees Celcius on Monday.  

According to a 40-year-old pilgrim from London, Zirrar Ali, the authorities did not provide enough water, shade or medical support to Hajj pilgrims during the week he was there. "To me, it felt like there are too many people, there are not enough medics, so they are just waiting for the worst of the worst to happen and then they will step in," Ali told CNN.

He added that people passing out came to be a regularity. "I couldn’t focus on my Hajj when I saw these people suffering," he added.

Many others also blamed it on severe mismanagement by Saudi authorities, alleging that several tents did not have adequate cooling and sanitation facilities. The coolers did not have water most of the time and air conditioners were missing in many tents. "There was so much suffocation in these tents that we were dripping with sweat and it was a dreadful experience," a pilgrim told BBC News.

The lack of adequate transportation facilities too added to the deaths. Pilgrims were often made to walk long distances in the intense heat. A pilgrim has to walk at least 15 kilometres per day and the lack of water, heatstroke and fatigue add to the exhaustion.

However, the Saudi Health Minister has highlighted the resources allocated to ensure pilgrim well-being, stating they allocated 189 hospitals, health centres and mobile clinics with a combined capacity of more than 6,500 beds, and over 40,000 medical, technical, administrative staff and volunteers.

Though the Saudi Health Ministry issued strict instructions to the pilgrims to avoid heat exposure and stay hydrated, many fell victim to heat stress and heatstroke, especially unregistered pilgrims. The governments are only aware of pilgrims who have registered and travelled to Mecca as part of their country’s quota while countries like Egypt sent hundreds of unregistered pilgrims.

"More than half of those who died were unregistered pilgrims and joined the Hajj through irregular channels, leaving them unable to access cooling facilities such as air-conditioned tents and buses," AFP reports.  

Many countries have sprung into action, cancelling the licences of tour companies. While Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly stripped 16 tourism companies of their licences and referred their managers to prosecutors for enabling illegal pilgrimages to Mecca, Jordan said it had detained several travel agents who facilitated the unofficial travel of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca.

Tunisian President Kais Saied fired the minister of religious affairs after local media reported 49 Tunisians had died, many of whom were unregistered pilgrims.

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp