¿Qué hay detrás de las muertes en la peregrinación del Hajj de este año en Arabia Saudita?

16 hours ago

By Zahra Fatima and BBC World Service, BBC News

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Hundreds of individuals are believed to have perished during the Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia – primarily due to scorching temperatures exceeding 51C (123F).

An Arab diplomat cited by AFP news agency mentioned that 658 Egyptians had passed away. Indonesia reported over 200 casualties among its citizens. Additionally, India confirmed 98 deaths.

Countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Sudan, and Iraq’s Kurdistan region have also acknowledged fatalities. The US indicated that several Americans were among the deceased, as reported by the Wall Street Journal. Families and friends have been searching for missing individuals in hospitals and online.

The aftermath of the deaths has been significant. The Egyptian Prime Minister revoked the licenses of 16 tourism companies and referred their managers to prosecutors for facilitating illegal pilgrimages to Mecca.

Jordan detained travel agents who aided in the unauthorized travel of Muslim pilgrims to Mecca. Tunisian President dismissed the Minister of Religious Affairs after reports of 49 Tunisian pilgrims passing away, many of whom were not registered.

The Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca is an annual tradition for Muslims. Saudi Arabia states that approximately 1.8 million people participated this year.

More than half of the deceased were unregistered pilgrims who accessed the Hajj through unofficial means, depriving them of cooling facilities like air-conditioned tents and buses, as per AFP.

Although Saudi Arabia has bolstered safety measures at the Hajj in recent times, criticisms persist, particularly regarding unregistered pilgrims. The country has not issued a public statement regarding the deaths.

Nevertheless, a senior Saudi official told AFP that 577 individuals lost their lives on the busiest days of Hajj – Saturday at Mount Arafat and Sunday during the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina.

“This occurred under harsh weather conditions and extremely high temperatures,” the official stated.

Here are some of the contributing factors to the deaths.

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A woman uses a handheld battery-operated fan to cool a man during the symbolic ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual

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Extreme Heat

Unprecedented heatwaves in Saudi Arabia are believed to have played a significant role in the high mortality rate.

Despite warnings from the Saudi Health Ministry to avoid heat exposure and stay hydrated, many pilgrims succumbed to heat stress and heatstroke.

“I survived by God’s grace, as it was unbearably hot,” recounted Aisha Idris, a Nigerian pilgrim, to BBC World Service’s Newsday.

Another pilgrim, Naim, reportedly perished due to heatstroke, leaving her family in search of answers.

“Our communication with my mother suddenly ceased. We spent days searching, only to discover she passed away during Hajj,” shared her son with BBC News Arabic, noting they would honor her wish for burial in Mecca.

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A woman affected by the scorching heat is wheeled on a wheelchair as pilgrims arrive for the symbolic ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual in Mina, near Mecca

Pilgrims face risks due to unfamiliar heat, physical exertion, vast open spaces, and the presence of elderly or ailing individuals.

However, heat-related deaths during Hajj are not new and have been documented since the 1400s.

Scientists caution that global warming will exacerbate these conditions.

“While Hajj has endured hot climates for centuries, the climate crisis is intensifying these conditions,” warned Carl-Friedrich Schleussner of Climate Analytics to Reuters.

His research suggests that with a 1.5C rise in global temperatures from pre-industrial levels, the risk of heatstroke during Hajj could increase up to fivefold.

Overcrowding and Sanitation Issues

Several reports suggest that mismanagement by Saudi authorities worsened the extreme conditions, resulting in crises in designated pilgrim areas.

Accommodations and facilities were reportedly poorly managed, with overcrowded tents lacking proper cooling and sanitation amenities.

Amina, a 38-year-old from Islamabad, shared, “Our tents in Mecca had no air conditioning. The coolers were often dry.”

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Authorities have implemented various cooling methods

“The suffocation in those tents caused us to sweat profusely, making it a dreadful experience,” she added.

Fauziah, a pilgrim from Jakarta, concurred, stating, “Many fainted due to overcrowding and overheating in the tents.”

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While she acknowledges the need for improvements, she believes this year’s Hajj organization was the best yet.

Nonetheless, the Saudi Health Minister emphasized the resources dedicated to ensuring pilgrim well-being.

A government statement highlighted 189 hospitals, health centers, and mobile clinics with 6,500+ beds, along with over 40,000 medical, technical, administrative staff, and volunteers.

Transportation

Pilgrims often had to cover long distances on foot in intense heat, with some blaming roadblocks and poor management.

Muhammad Acha, a private Hajj group organizer, noted that pilgrims may walk at least 15 kilometers daily during summer, exposing them to heatstroke, fatigue, and water scarcity.

“In my 18 years of Hajj experience, Saudi authorities are more controlling than facilitating. They restrict without assisting,” he remarked.

“In the past, access routes to tents were open, but now they’re closed,” he added. Como resultado, un peregrino ordinario, incluso si se aloja en una tienda de Categoría A en la Zona I, tiene que caminar 2.5 kilómetros en el calor del verano para llegar a su tienda”, explica.

“Si hay una emergencia en esta ruta, nadie llegará en 30 minutos. No hay arreglos para salvar vidas, ni puntos de agua a lo largo de estos caminos,” Acha agrega.

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La Autoridad de Transporte de Arabia Saudita dice que organizó más de 27,000 autobuses para transportar a los peregrinos

Peregrinos indocumentados

Para realizar el Hajj, un peregrino debe solicitar una visa especial de Hajj.

Pero algunas personas intentan realizar la peregrinación de cinco días sin la documentación adecuada, a pesar de los intentos de las autoridades sauditas por reprimirlos.

Los peregrinos sin la documentación adecuada a menudo evitan a las autoridades, incluso cuando necesitan ayuda.

Este problema de “Hajj no oficial” se cree que contribuye a las muertes en exceso y las autoridades los han culpado por parte del hacinamiento en las tiendas.

“Sospechamos que aquellos que usan visas no de Hajj se han infiltrado en las áreas de Hajj”, dice Mustolih Siradj, presidente de la Comisión Nacional de Hajj y Umrah de Indonesia (Komnas Haji).

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Saad Al-Qurashi, asesor del Comité Nacional de Hajj y Umrah, le dice a la BBC: “Cualquiera que no tenga una visa de Hajj no será tolerado y debe regresar a su país.”

Él señala que los peregrinos irregulares son identificados mediante tarjetas Nusuk, que se les otorgan a los peregrinos oficiales y contienen un código de barras para el ingreso a los sitios sagrados.

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Las temperaturas de 51.6°C contribuyeron a que los peregrinos se vieran afectados por el calor

Peregrinos ancianos, enfermos o discapacitados

Una razón por la que puede haber tantas muertes cada año en el Hajj es que muchos peregrinos van hacia el final de su vida, después de ahorrar durante toda una vida.

Muchos musulmanes también van con la esperanza de que si mueren, sea durante el Hajj, ya que se considera una bendición morir y ser enterrado en la ciudad santa.

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El Cementerio de Al-Baqi en Arabia Saudita, según se informa, fue fundado por el Profeta Mahoma, estableciéndolo como uno de los cementerios más sagrados en la tradición islámica

¿Qué sucede si alguien muere realizando el Hajj?

Cuando un peregrino muere mientras realiza el Hajj, se informa la muerte a la Misión de Hajj. Utilizan pulseras o identificaciones en el cuello para confirmar la identidad. Después, obtienen un certificado médico y Arabia Saudita emite un certificado de defunción.

Las oraciones fúnebres ocurren en mezquitas importantes como la Masjid al-Haram en La Meca o la Mezquita del Profeta en Medina, dependiendo. El cuerpo es lavado, envuelto y movido en congeladores proporcionados por el gobierno saudita, quienes cubren todos los costos.

Los entierros son simples, sin marcadores, a veces con muchos cuerpos en un solo lugar. El libro del cementerio lista quién está enterrado dónde, para que las familias puedan visitar las tumbas si lo desean.

El gobierno saudita, con la ayuda de diferentes grupos y la Media Luna Roja, dice que asegura “procesos de entierro dignos y respetuosos.”