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Egypt sets up crisis unit as Hajj death toll rises

At least 600 Egyptian citizens reportedly died at the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca

Egypt established a crisis unit on Thursday to investigate mass fatalities among its citizens who took part in the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca during extreme heat, Reuters has reported. 

According to medical and security sources cited by national media, at least 600 Egyptians died, and dozens more went missing during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, which ran from June 14 to 19. Temperatures soared above 50 degrees Celsius at the event, which attracted 1.8 million believers from across the world. 

“All of the (newly confirmed) deaths were because of the heat as well,” an Egyptian diplomat told AFP news agency. 

Le Monde cited an Egyptian official supervising the country’s Hajj mission as saying the pilgrims were left “without food, water, or air conditioning for a long time … [and] died from the heat.”

The medical source, part of the official Egyptian delegation to the Hajj, stated that most of the victims were not formally registered for the pilgrimage. In a statement announcing the launch of the crisis unit, following an order from President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s cabinet confirmed 28 deaths from a group of 50,752 officially registered Egyptian pilgrims.

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The Egyptian president highlighted “the need for immediate coordination with the Saudi authorities to facilitate receiving the bodies of the deceased and streamline the process.”

The cabinet added that companies facilitating travel for unregistered pilgrims would be investigated and penalized.

According to the Arab News website, so far 10 countries have reported a total of 1,081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage, one of the five pillars of Islam that all Muslims with the means are required to complete at least once.

Saudi Arabia’s meteorological center recorded a peak temperature of 51.8 degrees Celsius (125 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Grand Mosque in Mecca on Monday.

Each year hundreds of thousands of pilgrims attempt to perform the Hajj through unofficial routes, as they are unable to afford the official permits.

A 2019 study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters indicated that due to climate change, heat stress for Hajj pilgrims will surpass the “extreme danger threshold” between 2047 and 2052, and again from 2079 to 2086, with increasing frequency and intensity as the century advances.

Meanwhile, Indonesia, which registered around 240,000 pilgrims, reported 183 deaths, according to the country’s religious affairs ministry, compared to 313 deaths last year.

June 21, 2024 at 04:44PM

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