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Mecca tragedy, yet again

Mecca tragedy, yet again
Highlights

Even as the Muslim world is preparing to celebrate Eid, hundreds of pilgrims were killed in a stampede at Mina, outside the holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual Haj pilgrimage.

Even as the Muslim world is preparing to celebrate Eid, hundreds of pilgrims were killed in a stampede at Mina, outside the holy city of Mecca, where some two million people are performing the annual Haj pilgrimage.

This is not uncommon. About 2,700 people were killed in Haj stampedes during the last 25 years. Yet, the Saudi authorities seem to be not learning lessons though they are well aware of problems in managing mass gathering. In 2013, as many as 3.1 million pilgrims thronged the Haj pilgrimage.

The rush is expected to increase this time. Swelling of crowds cannot be cited as a reason for the tragedy as this is predictable and the history tells us that such unfortunate incidents occurred with remarkable frequency . The Saudi is a resource rich nation.

But, the tragedies like stampede are occurring so frequently, especially because there seems to be no fixing of responsibility.

The authorities miserably failed in ensuring preparations to the pilgrimage. The latest incident reveals that emergency health facilities are not even available to fully attend to the injured.

As the numbers continue to swell every year, there should have been some sort of planning to regulate the flow of pilgrims.

This would have been perhaps the only alternative, if the number of pilgrims is beyond the manageable capacity of human effort.

Absence of democracy makes the things much worse as there is no free media or competitive political system to provide warning signals of an impending crisis.

The crush happened in Mina, a large valley about five kilometers (three miles) from Mecca that has been the site of past Haj stampedes.

Mina is where pilgrims carry out a symbolic stoning of the devil by throwing pebbles against three stone columns. The history of stampedes during Haj pilgrimage reveals that this place is highly vulnerable to such tragic events. Thus,

the Saudi authorities should have evolved proper disaster prevention and preparedness strategies to prevent such tragedies during such an unprecedented mass gatherings. In fact, Iranian government has already officially blamed Saudi Arabia for the tragedy.

The annual occasion has become a lucrative business in recent years, proving a great financial asset to the economy of the oil-rich kingdom.

The BBC quoting the Chamber of Commerce in Mecca estimates that last year, the 10-day event generated some $10 billion. Just three days ago, the world’s leading journal,

The Economist , claimed that Haj pilgrimage was safer than ever before. It writes, “The Saudis take their ‘custodianship’ of holy places very seriously.

They have spent billions not only on infrastructure such as pedestrian bridges and tunnels and fireproof tent cities, but on management advice and logistics systems to handle the massive influx.

Strict country quotas limit the numbers of pilgrims.” Still, such a terrible tragedy struck. Who should be blamed for it?

Editor: Prof K Nageshwar

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