A bus carrying pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, burst into flames after a collision on a bridge on Monday March 27, killing 20 people and injuring around 30 others, according to Saudi state television.
Transporting pilgrims on the roads of Saudi Arabia can be perilous, especially during Hajj, the pilgrimage that Muslims make to Mecca in the twelfth month of the Muslim year. This planetary event generates endless traffic jams created by the countless buses transporting the faithful. In general, the extreme attendance of this planetary event can pose significant security problems.
A similar accident had already taken place in 2020: thirty-five foreign nationals, mainly of Arab and Asian origin, had been killed and four others injured when a coach collided with a construction machine. Ditto in 2018, when an accident killed six Britons.
Ten people per square meter
The main danger, however, remains that which threatens the faithful on foot. Mehdi Moussaïd, a cognitive science researcher specializing in crowd behavior, has devoted an article to this subject in his popularization blog.
“It is the place of all extremes, next to which the stands of the Stade de France look like a small gathering of friendshe says about the hajj. Egyptologists have the pyramids of Giza, ornithologists have the Amazon rainforest, and foulologists have Mecca. »
In Mecca, we observe densities of people of up to 9 people per square meter! It’s gigantic!
To give you an image, it’s equivalent to 14 people standing in a bathtub or 540 people crammed into a 60m2 apartment. pic.twitter.com/qCzLPbleJn
— Live from the Lab (@EnDirectDuLabo) March 5, 2019
When the RATP considers that having 3 or 4 people per square meter is dangerous, the hajj often generates densities approaching 10 people per square meter. In the event of crowd movement, this leads to a very dangerous situation for those present. These are no longer free to move and will propagate the crowd movement to their neighbor, creating a chain reaction.
1,426 dead in 1990
In 2006, when such a density was measured, a stampede killed 362 people. The accident took place on the particularly narrow Djamarat bridge. This allows access to the site of the stoning of the steles, in Mina. Similar events in the same place have claimed many lives over the past thirty years. In 1990, a crowd movement caused the death of 1,426 people there.
After the tragedy of 2006, the authorities considerably increased the size of the infrastructures. This did not prevent, eight years later, a gigantic stampede killing 2,431 people at the entrance to the bridge, the deadliest disaster in the history of the pilgrimage.
Saudi Arabia welcomes around 3 million worshipers each year at the time of Hajj. It is a central part of religious tourism in the kingdom, the country’s second source of income after oil.