At Least 550 Muslims Have Died on Hajj Pilgrimage, as Temperatures Hit 125ºF in Mecca

FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images

Two Arab diplomats told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Tuesday that at least 550 Muslims have died during 2024’s hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, most of them from “heat-related illnesses.”

Temperatures in Mecca have soared to 125 degrees Fahrenheit in June. Saudi officials said on Sunday that more than 2,000 pilgrims have been treated for heat stress, but they did not mention any fatalities and have not provided updated information since Sunday.

AFP’s tally of deaths, based on local media sources, stood at 645 on Wednesday. The Arab diplomats who spoke to AFP said 550 bodies were being held at the largest morgue in Mecca.

Of the deaths recorded so far, 323 were Egyptians, and 60 were Jordanians, as confirmed by the Jordanian government. The diplomats said one of the Egyptians “sustained fatal injuries during a minor crowd crush,” while the others all died of complications from the heat.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it is working with the Saudis to rescue Egyptians who have gone missing during the hajj. Egyptian officials said “a certain number of deaths” have occurred but did not mention any specific numbers.

“Some pilgrims described seeing motionless bodies on the roadside and ambulance services that appeared overwhelmed at times,” AFP reported.

The task of locating the missing and counting the dead is complicated by the large number of pilgrims who enter Mecca illegally because they cannot afford to pay for Saudi visas or because various political problems make it difficult for them to enter Saudi Arabia.

An officer sprays water on a woman during a hot day as Muslim pilgrims continue their worship to fulfill the hajj obligation in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on June 17, 2024. (Issam Rimawi/Anadolu via Getty Images)

One of AFP’s diplomatic sources said many of the Egyptians who died were “irregular pilgrims” who “went without food, water, or air conditioning for a long time.”

“Other countries to report deaths during the hajj this year include Indonesia, Iran, and Senegal,” AFP added.

The UK Guardian on Wednesday said friends and family of missing hajj pilgrims have been frantically searching for them in hospitals and pleading for news online. The husband of a missing 70-year-old Tunisian feared the worst because his wife was an “unregistered” pilgrim who had no access to air-conditioned facilities after spending hours praying in the sun.

“She’s an old lady. She was tired. She was feeling so hot, and she had no place to sleep. I looked for her in all the hospitals. Until now, I don’t have a clue,” he said.

The hajj is always a dangerous affair due to the heat, the advanced age of many pilgrims, and occasional crowd stampedes. The pilgrimage is technically mandatory at least once during the lifetime of every Muslim. 

Millions descend each year upon Mecca, a city that was not constructed with such immense crowds in mind. The Saudis are often criticized by other governments for not doing enough to protect the pilgrims.

The hajj has been exceptionally deadly in some years, such as 2015, when at least 2,400 people were crushed to death in a stampede. According to AFP, 2023’s death toll was relatively mild, at roughly 240 fatalities, most of them Indonesians.


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