Photo: MINA, SAUDI ARABIA - OCT 7, 2014: The Jamarat Bridge scenic view on Oct 7, 2014. Al-Jamarat is a pedestrian bridge in Mina used by haj pilgrims during the Stoning of the Devil ritual. It was the site of the worst tragedy in haj history in 2015 when a stampede killed over 2,000 pilgrims / Ahmad Yamani Fadzlin / Shutterstock.com
Saudi Arabia receives about 2 million foreign haj pilgrims annually and last year they came from across 164 countries, according to local media. By 2020, this figure is expected to reach 2.7 million.
Given the large number of foreign pilgrims, improving haj management requires international cooperation, and the Saudi authorities deal primarily with haj missions, which are the official authorities concerned with pilgrims’ affairs in each country.
The haj missions of India and Nigeria are taking extra steps to ensure the safety of their citizens, while Pakistan is looking at technology to help solve its issues with the management of pilgrims. Collectively, pilgrims from the three countries will represent approximately 20 percent of all haj participants this year.
|MUSLIM POPULATION||Approx 170 million, largest Muslim-minority population in the world|
|NO. OF HAJ PILGRIMS 2016||136,020|
“This year, India will send 136,020 Indian haj pilgrims. Of these, 100,020 will go through the Haj Committee of India and the rest with private tour operators,” Ataur Rahman, chief executive of the Haj Committee of India told Salaam Gateway.
The Committee plans to give out booklets to all Indian pilgrims to guide them on how to obtain medical assistance during haj and on the precautions to take in crowds and hot weather.
Stainless steel bracelets will also be handed out to the pilgrims containing their names, passport numbers, and country of origin.
“All our pilgrims will be provided with identity cards and steel bracelets for identification. We’ve also given a special disaster management training to khadim-ul-hujjaj [haj volunteers] who will accompany them on their pilgrimage,” said Rahman.
|MUSLIM POPULATION||Approx 80 million, equal to Egypt’s Muslim population, and largest in Sub-Saharan Africa|
|NO. OF HAJ PILGRIMS 2016||76,000|
Nigeria plans to provide its own electronic wristbands to its pilgrims. The devices will inform the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) of its citizens’ whereabouts and will have an SOS button which when pressed, would trigger an emergency response.
According to NAHCON chairman Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, of , Saudi Arabia has not objected to the idea of Nigeria providing its own e-bracelets to local pilgrims.
NAHCON decided to take precautionary measures after last year’s stampede in Mina, during which 280 Nigerians died and 43 went missing.
Saudi authorities approved 76,000 pilgrims from Nigeria for this year’s haj. A total of 75,081 Nigerian pilgrims participated in the haj last year.
|MUSLIM POPULATION||Approx 176 million, largest Muslim country after Indonesia|
|NO. OF HAJ PILGRIMS 2016||144,000|
Pakistan is expected to send nearly 144,000 pilgrims to haj this year, half of whom will visit through the government scheme and the other half with private group operators.
Although the country has not initiated an e-bracelet scheme of its own like Nigeria, a local start-up is hoping to make this happen by next year.
Hajj Guider, a smart bracelet designed to help people track each other and navigate during haj and umra, was developed in Pakistan by a group of engineers who recently moved to Dubai Silicon Oasis and established Daira Tech.
Functioning like a walkie talkie and coupled with an app, the device can cover up to a 4-kilometer range and has more than five days of battery life.
“We’re planning to launch the product before next year’s haj. It’s still too early to say whether the device will be adopted by the haj ministry in Pakistan,” Moeez Qadri, chief marketing officer of Daira Tech told Salaam Gateway.
He added that the ministry was looking at technology to help solve many issues with the management of pilgrims. “We’re hopeful that a solution that helps overcome most of their problems will be something they will look to adopt. We think our technology will resolve a lot of pain points for pilgrims, ministries and tour operators”.
According to Hajj Guider’s cofounder Hasam Khan, while other products work on GSM technology and cost up to $350, their device can work without mobile signals or internet and will be priced at $100 or below.
“After last year, haj ministries and the Saudi government have taken measures to improve the safety levels during haj 2016. However, most of these solutions still have to undergo testing during an entire pilgrimage season,” said Qadri.
“A good thing is that governments and haj ministries have taken positive steps towards improvements.”
(Reporting by Heba Hashem)
© SalaamGateway.com 2016