The deadly tragedy at Jam­rah

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

Amidst cel­e­bra­tions of this year’s Eid el-Kabir, Mus­lims had their fes­tive mood changed to sor­row when over 800 wor­ship­pers who were on pil­grim­age to Mecca lost their lives and about 900 oth­ers wounded in a deadly stam­pede that oc­curred at the Jam­rah Bridge near Mecca, Saudi Ara­bia. Sev­eral pil­grims are still miss­ing and can­not be ac­counted for by Hajj of­fi­cials.

Ex­actly two weeks ear­lier, 109 peo­ple were killed and hun­dreds in­jured when a crane col­lapsed within the premises of the Grand Mosque in Mecca af­ter a stormy rain on Septem­ber 11, 2015. About 2 mil­lion pil­grims from across the globe were re­port­edly in Saudi Ara­bia to per­form this year’s Hajj.

The an­nual Eid el-Kabir which is tra­di­tion­ally ob­served on the 10th day of the Is­lamic lu­nar month of Dhul-Hajj is also the day on which Mus­lims on pil­grim­age to Mecca are re­quired (af­ter stand­ing on mount Arafat the pre­vi­ous day) to per­form other Hajj rites in­clud­ing the sym­bolic ston­ing of the devil at the site called Jam­rah, some few kilo­me­ters out­side the city of Mecca. It was while pil­grims were head­ing to­ward the Jam­rah from Mina (where they passed the night) near Mecca that the deadly stam­pede oc­curred.

In a re­cent up­dated ac­count of the in­ci­dent, the Na­tional Hajj Com­mis­sion of Nige­ria (NAHCON) an­nounced that a to­tal of 74 Nige­rian pil­grims have so far been con­firmed dead. While 54 pil­grims of this fig­ure were from var­i­ous states of the coun­try, the re­main­ing 20 of the fig­ure were pil­grims who trav­elled for the Hajj us­ing pri­vate tour op­er­a­tors. De­tails re­leased by NAHCON show that about 77 Nige­rian pil­grims were in­jured in the stam­pede while 240 oth­ers are still miss­ing. NAHCON fur­ther states that although it can­not ac­count for the miss­ing Nige­rian pil­grims, it can­not de­clare them dead.

While we con­dole with fam­i­lies of pil­grims killed in the stam­pede, we also ex­press sym­pa­thy with vic­tims who were wounded in the in­ci­dent. Nonethe­less, it was not good enough that it took author­i­ties a long while to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion about the iden­ti­ties of vic­tims. It could have less­ened the agony which re­la­tions of vic­tims were sub­jected to if author­i­ties had promptly taken ad­van­tage of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy by post­ing por­trait pho­to­graphs of dead pil­grims on the in­ter­net.

Although stam­pede has been a re­cur­ring dec­i­mal at the Jam­rah in Mina, the 2015 in­ci­dent is the dead­li­est in a quar­ter of cen­tury. The worst was in 1990 when 1,426 pil­grims were killed in a pedes­trian tun­nel. The stam­pede was re­port­edly caused by a fail­ure in its ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem. In Jan­uary 2006, a to­tal of 364 pil­grims were also killed in a stam­pede dur­ing the ston­ing at Jam­rah. The in­ci­dent which claimed sev­eral lives each time it oc­curred was also wit­nessed in 1994, 1998, 2001 and 2003.

Saudi Ara­bia’s health Min­is­ter Khaled al-Falih blamed the 2015 tragedy on in­dis­ci­pline among pil­grims; say­ing the in­ci­dent would have been fore­stalled ‘if they had fol­lowed in­struc­tions’. Ac­cord­ing to him, many pil­grims move with­out re­spect­ing the time ta­ble pre­pared for ob­serv­ing the Hajj rites. The head of Saudi Ara­bia’s Cen­tral Hajj com­mit­tee Prince Khaled al-Faisal specif­i­cally blamed the tragedy on pil­grims with African na­tion­al­i­ties. How­ever, eye wit­ness ac­counts and media re­ports at­tribute the in­ci­dent to block­ade of the way to the Jam­rah to cre­ate way for a Saudi prince to pass. Bick­er­ing over what led to the stam­pede or politi­ciz­ing is ev­i­dence that not much of lessons and crowd-con­trol tech­niques have been learnt af­ter pre­vi­ous tragedies.

While the ef­fort by Saudi author­i­ties to set up a com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent is apt, we sug­gest that mem­ber­ship of the probe com­mit­tee should in­clude na­tion­als of other coun­tries. The com­mit­tee should not only rec­om­mend mea­sures par­tic­u­larly crowd-con­trol tech­niques that will avert a re-oc­cur­rence but should also be thor­ough in its as­sign­ment. The find­ings and ob­ser­va­tions of the re­port should also be made public. The Saudi Ara­bian author­i­ties which has the re­spon­si­bil­ity of or­ga­niz­ing and co­or­di­nat­ing the an­nual ex­er­cise could among other mea­sures re-ex­am­ine the num­ber of wor­ship­pers that should per­form Hajj yearly.

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