Safety Measures in Tawaf: Pilgrimage and Strategic Management

  May 27, 2021   Read time 3 min
Safety Measures in Tawaf: Pilgrimage and Strategic Management
The recent stampede in Hajj that resulted in the death of more than seven hundred pilgrims once again notified the importance of the adoption of tight safety measures in this great annual global event.

The large amount of pilgrims in the Tawaf area causes sluggish motion. An exact survey can track the demand levels (5000, 7500, 10,000, 12,500, 15,000 pilgrims) per hour. It can show that the Tawaf length increases as demand increases. The data shows how demand levels higher than 10,000 amblers per hour cause a sharp increase in Tawaf time. At this level mobbing occurs behind the Tawaf start–end line (black stone).

This mobbing might spread to other zones in the Tawaf loop and cause lengthier Tawaf times. Bottlenecks become hazardous because pilgrims push each other in such situations. Additionally, the Tawaf time and speed can also be influenced by pilgrims standing shoulder to shoulder and reaching out to kiss the black stone, which is framed in polished silver and elevated approximately 1.5 m in the south-eastern corner of the mighty Kaaba. This is the spot where pilgrims multiply exponentially and start to press forward. As pilgrims are propelled forward, a lengthier Tawaf ensues. This is the case near the black stone. In this zone, five or more pilgrims per square metre means that pilgrims start to lose their ability to move; the crowd behaves like a wave and death or serious injury can occur.

Another situation is ‘crowd crushing’. In this, a pilgrim is not even able to move his/her hands and the pressure on them prevents their lungs from functioning. This situation normally occurs when pilgrims try to kiss the black stone or touch it, or to pray near Maqam-Ibrahim (where the Prophet Ibrahim stood while building the upper walls of the holy Kaaba). Additionally, the Tawaf time and speed is affected due to progressive crowd collapse. In this situation, due to the increasing density of pilgrims, they won’t be able to maintain their balance and will fall down. This creates a vacuum, and a ‘domino’ effect; pilgrims then stampede, which can create chaos and delay to the Tawaf movement.

Stoning three devils in the Hajj is a symbolic and mandatory ritual. This is currently the most dangerous ritual conducted on the mega-bridges of Jamarat. The last Jamarat Bridge was built in 1975, with pillars that penetrated three openings in the bridge, thus permitting pilgrims to throw pebbles from ground level or from the bridge. Prior to that, pillars were approached only from the ground level, and the ritual was conducted in a less planned manner. More than 1000 pilgrims died during stampedes on the Jamarat Bridge between 1994 and 2006. These incidents provide a stark reminder of the safety challenges at the most congested public space in the world. Such a challenging situation for the Saudi authorities prompted them to alter the design of the bridge, using architecture that facilitates crowd control, rather than regulating the numbers of pilgrims.

Discussions and cooperative efforts were led by domestic and international professionals in crowd safety. Following an incident on the Jamarat Bridge in 2004, numerous safety measures were applied to the bridge’s design. Altering the form of the Jamarat pillars from spherical pillars to larger oval walls augmented the surface area and redeployed pilgrims into a betterorganized arrangement, avoiding any weak points. However, despite intense efforts, in 2006 a stampede took place and 380 pilgrims were killed and 289 injured. The Saudi government consequently destroyed the old bridge and established new plans. The new bridge is over 950 m long and 80 m wide with five levels. Each level is 12 m in height.

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