A man effected by the scorching heat is helped by a member of the Saudi security forces as pilgrims arrive to perform the symbolic 'stoning of the devil' ritual as part of the pilgrimage in Mina, near Mecca, on June 16, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

LONDON: The heatwave in Saudi Arabia blamed for the deaths of 1,300 people on the Hajj pilgrimage this month was made worse by climate change, a team of European scientists have said.

Temperatures along the route from June 16 to 18 reached 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) at times and exceeded 51.8°C at Mecca’s Grand Mosque.

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The heat would have been approximately 2.5°C (4.5°F) cooler without the influence of human-caused climate change, according to a weather attribution analysis by ClimaMeter.

ClimaMeter conducts rapid assessments of the role of climate change in particular weather events.

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The scientists used satellite observations from the last four decades to compare weather patterns from 1979 to 2001 and 2001 to 2023.

Although dangerous temperatures have long been recorded in the desert region, they said natural variability did not explain the extent of this month’s heatwave and that climate change had made it more intense.

The assessment also found that similar past events in Saudi Arabia occurred in May and July, but now June experiences more severe heatwaves.

“The deadly heat during this year’s Hajj is directly linked to fossil fuel burning and has affected the most vulnerable pilgrims,” said Davide Faranda, a scientist at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research who worked on the ClimaMeter analysis.

Climate change has made heatwaves hotter, more frequent and longer lasting. Previous findings by scientists with the World Weather Attribution group suggest that, on average globally, a heatwave is 1.2°C (2.2°F) hotter than in preindustrial times.

Medical authorities generally do not attribute deaths to heat, but rather to the heat-related coronary or cardiac illnesses exacerbated by high temperatures. Still, experts said it is likely that extreme heat played a role in many of the 1,300 Hajj deaths.