October 3, 2015

            “Close to three million people perform Hajj over about 10 days. And they show up in a town the size of Ottawa,” said Daniel Haufschild, the leader of urban mobility for the MMM Group. “The flow of people is like nothing else in the world.”

The Hajj, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, is a religious duty for Muslims that is mandatory to partake in at least once in a lifetime. Even the elderly make the 50 km trip through the sweltering heat of the Middle East. This year, temperatures in Mecca have risen to over 40ºC during the pilgrimage – the highest temperatures Mecca has seen in 20 years. In the area, the heat is one of many contributing factors to the death toll of over 760 people.

From 1990-2006, hundreds of people have been killed due to stampedes every 2-3 years. When the Jakarta Bridge was modified in 2006, there was a 9-year period with no significant disasters. Large new bridges have been built, tents with air conditioning have been installed, and a new train system has been established.

The Saudi Arabian government has spent billions of dollars on crowd control in the past few years, but is it enough?

As of October 1st, 2015, Iran has almost doubled its death toll to 464 pilgrims since last week’s stampede. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia are intensifying with Saudi Arabia’s insufficient crowd control system.

Amer Shalaby, a professor of transportation engineering from the University of Toronto, has been working with Saudi Arabia since 2008 to improve transportation. The savant has proposed a plan for a tighter crowd control system so that tragedies like the 2015 Hajj stampede will not occur again. Essentially, the Jamarat Bridge is a 5 storey building. It is a well-designed one way system to evade conflicting flows. However, like any other building, there is a capacity for the maximum number of people. Shalaby has suggested that in order to enhance the flow in and around the bridge, pilgrims must follow a strict schedule and perform their rituals at a certain time. The bridge will need a tightening of their control system so they can predict “hot spots” – where stampedes are most likely to form. The system, he states, must be intelligent enough to warn officials before another stampede ensues.

Hopefully, the forthcoming Hajj will overcome its previous problems, and let pilgrims reach their destinations safely. With 3,000,000 people showing up this year, the number of people for the 2016 Hajj will most likely be a plethora as well. In order to curb deaths caused by stampedes, suffocation, and heat, a powerful control system will indeed be needed.