Oman Daily Observer

Haj pilgrims face heat stroke risks with global warming

- — Thomson Reuters Foundation

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.

 ?? — Reuters ?? A worker distribute­s Zamzam water to pilgrims during the annual Haj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
— Reuters A worker distribute­s Zamzam water to pilgrims during the annual Haj pilgrimage, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

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