Hundreds die during Hajj pilgrimage amid intense heat

Samy Magdy |

Hundreds of people have died during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.
Hundreds of people have died during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of people died during the 2024 Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia as the faithful faced intense high temperatures at Islamic holy sites in the desert kingdom, officials say.

Saudi Arabia has not commented on the death toll amid the heat during the pilgrimage, required of every able Muslim once in their life, nor offered any causes for those who died.

However, hundreds of people had lined up at the Emergency Complex in Al-Muaisem neighbourhood in Mecca, trying to get information about their missing family members.

Saudi Arabia Hajj
A pilgrim receives cold water spray after she cast stones at the annual Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. (AP PHOTO)

One list circulating online suggested at least 550 people died during the five-day Hajj. A medic who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss information not released publicly by the government said that the names listed appeared genuine. That medic and another official who also spoke on condition of anonymity said they believed at least 600 bodies were at the facility.

Deaths aren’t uncommon at the Hajj, which has drawn at times more than two million people to Saudi Arabia. There have been stampedes and epidemics through the pilgrimage’s history.

Each year, the Hajj 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 preexisting 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 the heat that swept across the holy sites at Mecca, including Jordan and Tunisia.

Temperatures on Tuesday reached 47C in Mecca and the sacred sites in and around the city, according to the Saudi National Center for Meteorology. Onlookers saw some people faint while trying to perform the symbolic stoning of the devil,

At the Grand Mosque in Mecca, temperatures reached 51.8C on Monday though pilgrims had already left for Mina, authorities said.

Others, including many Egyptians, lost track of their loved ones in the heat and the crowds. More than 1.83 million Muslims performed the Hajj in 2024, including more than 1.6 million pilgrims from 22 countries, and about 222,000 Saudi citizens and residents, according to the Saudi Hajj authorities.

The AP could not independently confirm the causes of death for those bodies held at the complex. Saudi officials did not respond to questions seeking more information.

The kingdom’s ruling Al Saud family maintains a major influence in the Muslim world through its oil wealth and management of Islam’s holiest sites. Like Saudi monarchs before him, King Salman has taken the title of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, referring to the Grand Mosque in Mecca home to the cube-shaped Kaaba that Muslims pray towards five times a day, and the Prophet’s Mosque in the nearby city of Medina.

Saudi Arabia Hajj
Muslim pilgrims use umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun as they arrive in Mecca for the Hajj (AP PHOTO)

Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on crowd control and safety measures for those attending the annual five-day pilgrimage, but the sheer number of participants makes ensuring their safety difficult.

A 2015 stampede in Mina during the hajj killed more than 2400 pilgrims, the deadliest incident to ever strike the pilgrimage, an AP count showed. Saudi Arabia has never acknowledged the full toll of the stampede. A separate crane collapse at Mecca’s Grand Mosque, which preceded the Mina disaster, killed 111 people.

The second-deadliest incident at hajj was a 1990 stampede that killed 1426 people.