As pilgrims swelter, climate change looms over Haj

Friday, Jun 14, 2024

MAKKAH: From misting systems to heat-reflective road coverings, Saudi officials are trying to aid Haj pilgrims in coping with heat, but scientists caution that climate change may outpace these efforts.

The annual pilgrimage, one of the world´s largest religious gatherings, coincides again this year with the hot Saudi summer, with officials predicting average highs of 44 degrees Celsius.Travelling to Makkah from Chicago in the United States, Shariq Memon prepared for the worst, though he told AFP conditions had been manageable so far.

“We were told it would be very hot,” the 44-year-old said as he left the Grand Mosque this week.“It´s hot, but somehow, with the spirit of Allah, we don´t feel the heat that much.”Heat mitigation measures implemented at the holy sites in recent years may also have something to do with it.

Near the Kaaba, the black cubic structure in the Grand Mosque towards which all Muslims pray, new air-conditioned spaces allow pilgrims to cool off, and a climate-controlled pathway now connects the hills of Safa and Marwa inside the mosque compound.

Since last year, roads used by the faithful have been covered in a white cooling material that Saudi officials say reduces the temperature of the asphalt by 20 percent.

On top of that, volunteers distribute water and umbrellas and offer advice to pilgrims on avoiding hyperthermia, while misting systems and air-conditioned shopping malls provide temporary relief between prayers.