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17 days ago

Tragic deaths & Hajj management

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During the Hajj this year, the death of more than a thousand pilgrims was a shocking incident that also sparked criticism across the world. Death during the Hajj is not unusual, as a few pilgrims die every year due to illness, old-age complications, road accidents and heat stroke. The high death toll this year, however, questioned the overall management of the largest annual gathering of the Muslims. According to an official figure released by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on Sunday last, some 1,301 pilgrims died mainly due to extreme temperature during the Hajj days between June 14 and 19. Some, however, argued that the actual death toll is higher, and various social media platforms put it at around 5,000.

Undoubtedly, the main reason behind the death of pilgrims was the excessive heat as the temperature soared past 51 degree Celsius, especially on the Day of Arafa and the next day. The highest death toll is recorded for Egyptian pilgrims, followed by Indonesians and Indians. The KSA authority also said that around 83 per cent of those who died were unauthorised or unregistered pilgrims and 'walked long distances under direct sunlight, without adequate shelter or comfort.' The official statement also added that there were 'some elderly and chronically ill individuals' among the deceased.

Just before the five-day annual ritual started, KSA issued a heat alert and urged the pilgrims to follow health guidelines like using an umbrella, staying inside the tents, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding mad rush. It is also true that several pilgrims failed to follow the protocols properly, causing many to fall ill. Again, it is difficult for many to follow those during the Day of Arafa when pilgrims gathered at Mount Arafat, the final day of Hajj.

Whatever the factors behind the pilgrims' deaths, the KSA authorities cannot avoid responsibility, as some mismanagement on their part was also reported. It is difficult to comprehend how some unregistered pilgrims got the chance to go to Mina, Arafat, Muzdalifa, and Jamarat under the strict vigilance of the KSA authority and security forces. Without a Nusuk card, no pilgrims were allowed to enter Makkah and Hajj sites this year. So, the authority needs to investigate the matter.

The total number of official pilgrims stood at 1.84 million in the current year, which is almost the same as that of last year. Despite having a similar number of pilgrims, the KSA authorities seem to have faced more challenges managing them efficiently this year.

Again, several pilgrims alleged that there was no adequate water supply at night when they had stayed under the open sky at Muzdalifa after spending the whole day at Mount Arafat. The next morning, when they set for Jamarat for stone pelting, the water crisis took a serious turn on the way for many, although there were plenty of water facilities by the roadsides leading to Jamarat. The lack of adequate paramedics to support the heat victims also made things complicated. Non-cooperation from security members, in some cases, made some pilgrims face many difficulties on their way, it is alleged.

The KSA authority needs to review these allegations carefully and investigate them instead of sticking to the official version. Over the years, they have successfully improved the Hajj management, providing efficient services to the pilgrims. Nevertheless, several companies authorised by the KSA government to mobilise and manage pilgrims cannot do so efficiently. Some even abandoned the pilgrims during the Hajj days, putting them at risk. So, enhanced and continued vigilance is a must, and the companies and agencies should be penalised for any wrongdoing.

As the Hajj is the highest spiritual and physical pilgrimage for the Muslims who can afford, they also believe that death during the period is a divine blessing. This doesn't mean that laxity in ensuring optimal facilities and support has to be accepted.

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