Climate emergency strikes Islam’s holy ritual, with nearly 600 dead of heat stroke in Mecca

Jun 21, 2024
Kaaba in Masjid Al Haram in Mecca Saudi Arabia

As the temperature in Mecca reached 125.24° F. (51.8° C.) on Tuesday, word leaked out that nearly 600 pilgrims had died of heat stroke and 2,000 have been hospitalised for treatment. A virtual clinic treated more thousands remotely. Some 324 of the dead were Egyptians, while dozens were from Jordan.

The season of the annual Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, just ended. Some 1.8 million pilgrims participated.

Eyewitnesses said that not all the dead were elderly, that young persons died, as well.

Pilgrims carry out a series of rituals during the pilgrimage, beginning with preparing themselves and establishing their pious intention. Many of the steps involve being outside and being active. They dress in white robes. They circumambulate the cube-shaped Kaaba shrine. They run between the nearby hillocks of Safa and Marwa seven times, in commemoration of the search of Abraham’s wife Hajar for water for her son with the patriarch, Ishmael. They walk or are taken in buses to Mina and spend some nights of the pilgrimage there. There, they throw stones at satan.

H/t Saudi Ministry of Hajj

AFP explains that some pilgrims try to avoid paying the hefty visa fees by just showing up unregistered. They however, then lack access to air conditioned facilities and are at special risk of heat stroke.

The number of heat stroke deaths seems to have doubled since last year. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s major oil producers, and burning petroleum to power vehicles puts the deadly heat-trapping gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere, heating up the planet.

The G20 Climate Risk Atlas writes, “The science shows that Saudi Arabia will experience devastating climate impacts if it follows a high-emissions pathway. Without urgent action, Saudi Arabia will see an 88% increase in the frequency of agricultural drought by 2050. Heatwaves will last more than 4,242% longer and the combination of sea level rise, coastal erosion and fiercer weather will cause chaos for Saudi Arabia’s economy, which stands to lose around 12.2% of GDP by 2050.”

A 12.2% loss of gross domestic product for Saudi Arabia today would amount to a loss of $135 billion annually. That loss alone is more than the entire yearly GDP of Kenya or Ecuador.

Flooding on the kingdom’s coasts as the sea level rises threatens 210,000 of the 22 million citizens. Long droughts endanger fisheries, forests and agriculture, which make up 2.6% of the country’s gross domestic product. Longer heat waves will reduce the quality of life and menace livelihoods and health.

I have to tell you, I have lived in the Arabian Peninsula. I remember one June evening my wife and I were ready to take a short walk over to a restaurant when it was 114° F., and we went out and were met with a blast furnace. We went back in and ordered an air conditioned car for the two-minute drive. We just couldn’t bear to walk five minutes in it.

The Saudi government sees hosting the annual Hajj or pilgrimage as a form of soft power that adds to its legitimacy throughout the Muslim world, comprising some 2 billion persons. If its oil-intensive policies increasingly contribute to disabilities for pilgrims on Hajj, in turn, that development can only harm the monarchy’s reputation, since it styled itself “Servant of the two holy shrines.”


Republished from INFORMED COMMENT, June, 16, 2024

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