The Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, will occur Aug. 9-14 (8-13 of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the last month of the Islamic calendar); the exact dates may vary by one or two days and are dependent on local lunar sightings. The Hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and every Muslim is required to partake in the pilgrimage at least once in their lifetime if they can afford it. Upwards of 2.5 million Muslims are expected to partake in the 2019 Hajj, creating security challenges for Saudi officials.
With the massive influx of pilgrims arriving in Saudi Arabia, the main issue for Saudi security personnel will be crowd control and management. Of utmost concern is the risk of a stampede. The sheer number of people moving from site to site in a limited space increases the risk of injury and death due to an uncontrollable surging crowd. There have been numerous stampedes since 1990. In September 2015, more than 2,300 pilgrims were killed in Mina as crowds moved toward the entrance to the Jamaraat Bridge, making it the deadliest Hajj incident in history. Officials believe the accident occurred as two large groups of pilgrims coalesced at the entrance to the bridge, leading to a massive bottleneck. In 2006, 346 people died during the “stoning of the devil” ritual in Mina. The incident occurred as a crowd of pilgrims surged toward the ritual site and tripped over luggage, creating a bottleneck that led people being crushed.
Saudi officials will deploy thousands of security force personnel to establish checkpoints to control crowds. Officials have also announced that from June 28, they will ban vehicles from entering the holy city of Mecca during the Hajj period. Drivers with special permits will still be able to enter. The vehicle restrictions are an effort to ease traffic congestion in the city while thousands of buses ferry pilgrims to and from different holy sites in Mina, Muzdalifa, and Arafat.
Keep Your People Healthy During the Hajj
Officials have seen sporadic outbreaks of traveler’s diarrhea, as well as respiratory and bloodborne diseases, during and immediately following the Hajj. Personnel with pre-existing heart or respiratory conditions planning to participate in the Hajj may want to avoid large events.
Between two and three million attendees make the Hajj one of the largest gatherings in the world. To protect the health and safety of the travelers and residents alike, Saudi authorities have mandated several immunizations. These include proof of vaccination against meningococcal meningitis, seasonal influenza, and polio.
The Hajj typically draws pilgrims from more than 70 countries, significantly increasing the risk of disease transmission. Large gatherings present an increased risk of physical trauma, cardiac (heart) events, dehydration and heat-related illnesses, and acute mental distress. According to international health officials, cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death among Hajj pilgrims. Special precautions should be taken by organizations and travelers to protect from these risks.
Physical trauma is a major concern in multiple ways. Although security officials will ban vehicles from entering Mecca, motor vehicle accidents on the journey are common. Little can be done to avoid stampedes once they begin, and trauma to the head with no access to urgent medical care can lead to death. Personnel and travelers should avoid densely crowded areas and, when possible, perform rituals at nonpeak hours.
Prevention of Food- and Waterborne Illnesses
Transmission of food- and waterborne disease is likely during the Hajj. Those in regions in and near Hajj events should drink only recognized brands of sealed bottled water or water that has been boiled or chemically treated. Pilgrims should regularly wash their hands with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially before preparing or eating food.
Non-pilgrim travelers may encounter Hajj pilgrims in transit, which requires that all travelers be aware of the increased risk of infectious disease associated with international travel. Pilgrims may have been exposed to a variety of diseases, such as measles or polio, which can be avoided by ensuring a traveler is fully vaccinated against both routine and exotic diseases prior to departure.
All individuals need to contact their travel health provider at least six weeks in advance of travel to obtain any recommended or required vaccinations prior to arrival in Saudi Arabia. Read How to Stay Healthy During the Hajj for more health-related concerns and advice.
Before, during, and immediately following the Hajj, organizations should reconfirm accommodations in Saudi Arabia. Hotels will be extremely crowded, especially in and around Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina through at least mid-December. Government and many corporate offices will close or reduce operating hours during the Hajj period. Travel delays are possible at all major Saudi airports during the Hajj period and for several weeks afterward. Reconfirm flights and business meetings. Photography of the following is forbidden:
- Military installations
Permission should be sought for individual snapshots of any traveler or Saudi people. Closely abide by local cultural, legal, and religious norms and sensibilities. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or wearing expensive jewelry or valuables, as this may make you an attractive target for criminals. Ensure that all electronic devices are secure, including mobile phones and laptops.
WorldAware provides intelligence-driven, integrated risk management solutions that enable multinational organizations to operate globally with confidence. WorldAware’s end-to-end tailored solutions, integrated world-class threat intelligence, innovative technology, and response services help organizations mitigate risk and protect their people, assets, and reputations.