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Haj pilgrims face increasing risk of heat stroke with global warming

Beirut: Thousands of devout Muslims crowd IslamThe holiest sites in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage this week, scientists have warned that the sacred rites are under threat due to deadly rising heat.
The study in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that with a global warming of 1.5 °C (2.7 °F) above pre-industrial time, the risk of pilgrims suffering a life-threatening heat stroke could increase five-fold.
With the increase of 2C – the less ambitious target of the 2015 Paris Agreement – the chances become 10 times higher, said Climate Analytics, a Berlin-based think-tank.
Study lead author Fahad Saeed said, “The region is already susceptible to dangerous heat levels. We found that even in the best-case scenario, where temperatures rise to only 1.5 °C, pilgrims would still be at risk ”
“It would compromise the essence of this religion,” Saeed, regional chief scientist for climate analytics, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The world has already warmed by about 1.2C and is currently on track to warm by about 3C this century as emissions continue to rise.
Hajj, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, involves a number of outdoor activities, including praying outside during the day and walking from one shrine to another.
The risk of heat stroke comes not only from rising temperatures, but also from higher humidity—which prevents sweat from evaporating 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 around 36 to 43C (97 to 109F).
Climate Analytics found that July, August, September and October would be the deadliest combination of heat and humidity – months during which Hajj, which follows the Islamic lunar calendar, is set to fall for the next decade.
The Saudi General Authority for Meteorology and Environmental Protection did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Saudi authorities are dealing with the threat of heat, with the 2016 National Hajj Extreme Heat Strategy pledging air conditioning and fans in all indoor venues and adequate water, as heat illnesses accounted for 24% of hospital admissions during the 2015 Hajj did.
After allowing only 1,000 pilgrims to participate last year, this year the Hajj has expanded, but only to citizens and residents aged 18 to 65 who have been fully vaccinated or have recovered from the virus. and those who are not suffering from chronic diseases.
The health ministry announced that it has provided mist fans at religious places and a nearby hospital will have a 24-hour heat dissipation unit.
Limiting the number to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 has also deterred those at risk of heat stroke, while fewer pilgrims means cooling units can operate more effectively.
“This year the numbers are low but in normal years Hajj brings two million people to a confined space. The risk will be high,” Saeed said.
The study authors said Muslim countries should consider working more actively to curb climate-changing emissions under the Paris Agreement “to avoid profound exposure to one of the central elements of their faith”. .
“Climate action can save this legacy,” Saeed said.

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