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Extreme heat in Mecca as 2 million people perform Hajj today

Maryam Al-Ansari, Sunday June 16, 2024 - 13:06 AEST


Over the past few weeks 1.83 million Muslims for around the world made their way to Mecca, Saudi Arabia to perform the religious pilgrimage, Hajj. Hajj is considered a cornerstone of Islam and every Muslim aims to perform these rituals once in their lifetime. It occurs every year on the 10th day of the final month of the lunar calendar (Thul Hijjah), which in 2024 happens to be on Sunday the 16th of June in Saudi Arabia. 


For many 2024 would be the year they would complete this religious milestone. However, there is one downside. Hajj of 2024 is set in the middle of the Middle East's summer, with temperatures over the Hajj period averaging 44 degrees during the day and 31 degrees overnight. 


As the rituals come to a climax, so do the temperatures, with temperatures expected to reach 49 degrees on Sunday afternoon. An extreme heat alert is issued for Mecca and the Saudi Government has prepared important locations used for Hajj with different cooling methods. 




The haram (mosque where the Ka’aba is located) has ground-cooling marble floors 


Roads that the Hujjaj (people performing Hajj) will be walking along are painted white to reflect sunlight and reduce asphalt heating 


Large fans which spray water are installed along the paths and at major locations 


The tents on Mt Arafat are made of fire-resistant and heat-resistant materials as well as being equipped with air conditioning 


Maintaining and planting 600,000 Neem trees on and along Mt Arafat to increase cooling via shade, breaking hot desert winds and transpiration 




Not to add the 5,000 first aid volunteers, 1,600 personnel with medical units and 30 rapid response teams out on duty. 


 


Photo 1) A Neem tree in a tent on Mt Arafat during Hajj (taken by Maryam Al-Ansari) 


These methods are used to reduce heat stress for the Hujjaj, as well as comply with religious requirements of all the different Muslim sects which will be present at Hajj. The "Research and Innovation Center" at King Faisal Specialist Hospital have reported a 47.6% reduction in mortality rate associated with heat stroke and exhaustion during Hajj in the past 40 years, even though the average annual temperature has increased by 0.4 degrees in that same time. 


Though an impressive statistic, it must be noted that Hajj doesn't take place in summer every year. Because the lunar calendar is around 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, the date shifts earlier each year. For example, Hajj was during autumn ten years ago, and during winter twenty years ago.  


This means that the Saudi government hasn't experienced such temperatures during the Hajj season before and despite their efforts, there have unfortunately been a few casualties. Six Hujjaj have lost their lives to heat stroke so far, all Jordanian citizens. With medical records showing 8,400 reported cases of heat stress last Hajj, let's hope that we will have no more casualties as both the rituals and the temperature reaches its peak. 


- Weatherzone

© Weatherzone 2024

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