Oman Daily Observer
Haj pilgrims face heat stroke risks with global warming
BEIRUT: As thousands of devout Muslims flocked to Islam’s holiest sites in Saudi Arabia for the annual Haj pilgrimage this week, scientists warn the sacred rite is under threat due to deadly rising heat.
The risk of pilgrims suffering lifethreatening heat stroke could rise five-fold with global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times, found the study in the journal Environmental Research Letters.
With an increase of 20C — the less ambitious goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement — the probability becomes 10 times higher, said Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based think-tank.
“The region is already susceptible to dangerous heat levels. We found that even in the best case scenario, where temperatures only go up by 1.5 degrees Celsius, pilgrims would still be under threat’’, said Fahad Saeed, lead author of the study.
“It will compromise the very essence of this religion’’, Saeed, regional lead scientist for Climate Analytics, said.
The world has already heated up by about 1.20C and is currently on track for warming of about 30C this century as emissions continue to rise.
The risk of heat stroke stems not just from rising temperatures, but from more humidity – which prevents sweat from evaporating as quickly, making it harder to cool down. To guard against the coronavirus, only 60,000 pilgrims are visiting the main sites from July 17 to 22 this year, in temperatures of about 36 to 430C.
Climate Analytics found that July, August, September, and October will have the deadliest combination of heat and humidity — months during which the Haj, which follows the Islamic lunar calendar, is set to fall for the next decade.
The Saudi General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saudi authorities are tackling the heat threat, with a 2016 National Haj Extreme Heat Strategy pledging air conditioning and fans in all indoor places and adequate water, as heat illnesses made up 24 per cent of hospital admissions during 2015’s Haj.