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Australian dies during Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia

Extreme heat has been cited as behind the high death toll at this year's annual Hajj pilgrimage.

Extreme heat has been cited as behind the high death toll at this year's annual Hajj pilgrimage. Photo: AAP

An Australian is among hundreds of people who died during the Hajj pilgrimage after intense heat enveloped Islam’s holy sites.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed it was providing consular assistance to the pilgrim’s family but was unable to provide further details due to privacy obligations.

“We send our deepest condolences to the family at this difficult time,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

About 550 people are estimated to have died during the five-day pilgrimage after temperatures reached 47C in Mecca and other sacred sites around the city.

Perth Imam Yahya Adel Ibrahim, who completed the Hajj this year, knew of the Australian who had died.

“I can’t share too many details… but it is somebody who was elderly, who sadly found his last moments seeking god,” he told ABC radio.

“Death for us, as people of faith, is not something that we embrace but at the same time it’s something that we understand can be part of the will of God.

“A lot of the pilgrims, especially those who have lost family members, we have a saying … to God we belong and to him is our ultimate return, so there’s a sense of acceptance.”

Every year roughly two million Muslims perform the Hajj and deaths have previously occurred due to stampedes or epidemics.

Many faithful also save for their entire lives to do the pilgrimage, which means they are elderly or have pre-existing health conditions.

Trees have been planted to provide extra shade and streams of water flow along the pathways, Ibrahim said.

“But when temperatures reach beyond 50 and people are – at times – not willing to pay heed or think they’re not as overwhelmed … sadly (death) is a byproduct,” he said.

But as the climate changes, the risks of Hajj are expected to grow.

A 2019 study from the Massachussetts Institute of Technology found that the Hajj would be held in temperatures exceeding an “extreme danger threshold from 2047 to 2052 and from 2079 to 2086, even if nations succeed in mitigating the worst effects of climate change.

Saudi Arabia has already spent billions on crowd control and other safety measures, but it is hard to ensure the safety of all participants due to their sheer numbers.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who are out there trying their best to make sure that the millions of people converging on a very small swath of land, are looked after, are hydrated, are protected,” Ibrahim said.

“We are always attempting to improve the services that are provided with commentary to the Ministry of Hajj and engaging with them, but they’ve done a phenomenal job year after year.”

– AAP

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