Nigerians among 717 killed in Hajj stampede
ABOUT 717 people taking part in this year’s pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia have been reportedly killed near the Islamic holy city of Mecca, in what has been described as the most fatal stampede during the religious rite in the last 25 years.
It was gathered that another 863 people were injured in the incident at Mina, which occurred as two million pilgrims from 184 countries were taking part in the Hajj’s last major rite.
Earlier in the month, about 109 people were killed when a crane collapsed at Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
The Saudi Civil Defence Directorate said, in a statement, that the stampede occurred at around 09:00 local time (06:00 GMT) at the junction of Street 204 and Street 223. “The pilgrims were walking towards the five-storey structure which surrounds the pillars, known as the Jamarat Bridge. The incident happened when there was a “sudden increase” in the number of pilgrims heading towards the pillars,” the statement said. This “resulted in a stampede among the pilgrims and the collapse of a large number of them”, it added.
Security personnel and the Saudi Red Crescent were “immediately” deployed to prevent more people heading towards the area, the directorate said.
The Saudi Health Minister, Khaled al-Falih, said the crush occurred because pilgrims failed to follow directions.
According to him, “many pilgrims move without respecting the timetables” established by authorities.
Hundreds of wounded have been taken to four hospitals in the area by the more than 220 rescue vehicles sent to the scene.
Amateur video and photographs posted on social media showed the bodies of dozens of pilgrims on the ground. They were all dressed in the simple white garments worn during the Hajj.
The civil defence directorate said the victims were of “different nationalities”, without providing details.
According to officials in Saudi Arabia, victims include Nigerians, Nigeriens, Chadians and Senegalese. They converged on Mina to throw stones at pillars representing the devil.
Pilgrims travel to Mina, a large valley about 5km (3 miles) from Mecca, during the Hajj to throw seven stones at pillars called Jamarat, which represent the devil. The pillars stand at three spots where Satan is believed to have tempted the Prophet Abraham.
People were going towards the direction of throwing the stones while others were coming from the opposite direction. Then it became chaotic and suddenly people started going down.
Iran’s state news agency, Irna, said at least 43 Iranians were among the dead.
The UK Foreign Office said it was in contact with the local authorities and was urgently seeking more information about whether British nationals were involved.
Saudi-owned al-Arabiya TV reported that the head of the central Hajj committee, Prince Khaled al-Faisal, blamed the stampede on “some pilgrims with African nationalities.”
But the head of Iran’s Hajj organisation, Said Ohadi, told Irna that two paths close to the scene of the incident had been inexplicably closed off by the Saudi authorities, resulting in the build-up in pilgrims.
Hajj: Previous tragedies
.1987: 402 people died when security forces broke up an anti-U.S. demonstration by Iranian pilgrims.
•1990: 1,426 pilgrims, mainly Asians, died in a stampede in an overcrowded tunnel leading to holy sites.
•1994: 270 pilgrims died in a stampede during the stoning of devil ritual.
•1997: 340 pilgrims were killed when fire fuelled by high winds swept through Mina’s tent city.
• 2006: 364 pilgrims died in a crush at foot of Jamarat Bridge in Mina.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is on high alert as an estimated two million Muslims gathered in Mecca to take part in the annual pilgrimage.
In a statement, the global health body said over the last six months, the organisation and the government of Saudi Arabia have been working together to ensure health issues that could arise with any mass gathering of people are immediately and effectively addressed.
WHO’s Director for the Eastern Mediterranean Region, Dr. Ala Alwan, said: “With this large number of older people coming together at one time, an increase in potential health issues is always expected.
“Whether it is working to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, treating injuries, or providing care for chronic health issues often associated with ageing, there must be extensive coordination of health services locally during this time.”
The Ministry of Health says in addition to the permanent medical staff in Makkah Province, where Mina and Mecca are located, 25 000 additional health workers have been deployed and eight hospitals that are only used during this time of the year have been opened.
Minister of Health of Saudi Arabia, Al-Falih, said: “These hospitals are complete with state-of-the-art surgical wards and intensive care units. We recognise the concerns that many have regarding infectious disease in today’s environment, including the Middle East Respiratory disease coronavirus (MERS-CoV), however, since the onset of the disease in 2012, there have not been any case among Hajj pilgrims, and we are working to keep it that way.”
In addition to increases in health workers and health facilities where people will be gathering, the government requires certain health precautions from all pilgrims, including immunisation, to protect against diseases like seasonal influenza, meningococcal meningitis, poliomyelitis, and yellow fever.
In addition, health officials advise people to practise good hygiene, including:
• washing hands with soap and water or disinfectant, especially after coughing or sneezing;
• using disposable tissues when coughing or sneezing and disposing of them properly; and
• avoiding hand contact with the eyes, nose and mouth since those can be easy ways to spread germs.
This is the sixth year that the WHO has been supporting the government of Saudi Arabia in health preparations for the Hajj.