Mina: Saudi security forces help pilgrims reeling from the effects of searing heat during the ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual at the Haj pilgrimage, earlier this week.—AFP/file
Mina: Saudi security forces help pilgrims reeling from the effects of searing heat during the ‘stoning of the devil’ ritual at the Haj pilgrimage, earlier this week.—AFP/file

LONDON: Deadly heatwaves are scorching cities on four continents as the Northern Hemisphere marks the first day of summer, a sign that climate change may again help to fuel record-breaking heat that could surpass last summer as the warmest in 2,000 years.

Record temperatures already reached in recent days are suspected to have caused hundreds if not thousands of deaths across Asia and Europe.

Countries around the Mediterranean have also endured another week of blistering high temperatures that have contributed to forest fires from Portugal to Greece and along the northern coast of Africa in Algeria, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Earth Observatory.

In Serbia, meteorologists forecast temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius this week as winds from North Africa propelled a hot front across the Balkans. Health authorities declared a red weather alert and advised people not to venture outdoors.

Blistering high temperatures contribute to forest fires; extreme heat blamed for 1,000 deaths during Haj; 200 homeless die in Delhi

Belgrade’s emergency service said its doctors intervened 109 times overnight to treat people with heart and chronic health conditions.

In neighbouring Montenegro, where health authorities also warned people to stay in the shade until late afternoon, tens of thousands of tourists sought refreshment on the beaches along its Adriatic coast.

Europe this year has been contending with a spate of dead and missing tourists amid dangerous heat. Parts of the US Northeast and Midwest are also wilting under a heat dome, with more than 86 million people under a heat alert on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Meteorological authorities also issued an excessive heat warning for parts of Arizona, including Phoenix, on Thursday, with temperatures expected to reach 45.5C.

Counting the dead

The heatwave gripping northern India has killed nearly 200 homeless people in New Delhi over the last week, a group dedicated to helping the homeless said on Thursday, as the country grapples with record-high summer temperatures.

As many as 52 bodies were brought to hospitals in the past two days, The Times of India reported on Thursday, adding that most of them were poor people who lived and worked in the open.

A total of 192 homeless people died in New Delhi between June 11 and June 19, according to government figures shared by the non-profit organisation Centre for Holistic Development, higher than in previous years.

India has recorded more than 40,000 suspected heatstroke cases this summer and at least 110 confirmed deaths between March 1 and June 18, when northwest and eastern India recorded more than twice the usual number of heatwave days.

Haj toll

The death toll from this year’s Haj has exceeded 1,000, an AFP tally said on Thursday, more than half of them unregistered worshippers who performed the pilgrimage in extreme heat in Saudi Arabia.

The new deaths reported on Thursday included 58 from Egypt, according to an Arab diplomat who provided a breakdown showing that of 658 Egyptians who passed away, 630 were unregistered pilgrims.

All told, around 10 countries have reported 1,081 deaths during the annual pilgrimage. The figures have come via official statements or from diplomats working on their countries’ responses.

The Haj, whose timing is determined by the lunar Islamic calendar, fell again this year during the oven-like Saudi summer. The National Meteorological Centre reported a high of 51.8 degrees Celsius this week at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

In addition to Egypt, new fatalities were confirmed on Thursday by Pakistan and Indonesia. Out of around 150,000 pilgrims, Pakistan has so far recorded 58 deaths, a diplomat briefed on the tally told AFP. “I think given the number of people, given the weather, this is just natural,” the diplomat said.

Indonesia, which had around 240,000 pilgrims, raised its death toll to 183, according to the religious affairs ministry, compared with 313 deaths recorded last year. Deaths have also been confirmed by Malaysia, India, Jordan, Iran, Senegal, Tunisia, Sudan and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2024

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