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Hajj 1440

I was privileged to again work at the annual Hajj. For those of you who weren’t reading this blog two years ago, there is a 14km long metro system that operates only during the week of the Hajj, and my employing organisation has duties to oversee the safety and efficiency of the railway operation. So I was deployed again to work amongst the 2.5 million Muslims who had descended upon the valley outside Makkah (Mecca) where it all happens. The railway has trains that carry 3,000 people at a time and up to 72,000 people per hour in one direction. The pilgrims stay at the camps at Mina, and travel to other locations to undertake their religious devotions. And it’s a full-on week for me and my colleagues working alongside those operating what is surely one of the strangest railways in the world. But as I’ve described it in detail before, I’ll move on.

Let's instead look at some of the other aspects of the Hajj as reported on in the newspapers. 

 Saudi Civil Defense deploys 17,000 officers, 3,000 vehicles for Hajj. (Article, "Arab News")


22 Civil Defence vehicles lined up. 

The General Directorate of Civil Defense (the Saudi fire and rescue service - AF) started its preparations for this year’s Hajj season by executing its annual general emergency plan, which includes mobilizing more than 17,000 officers and more than 3,000 vehicles to deal with public safety challenges.

The general directorate aims to preserve the safety of pilgrims and visitors of the Two Holy Mosques under the direct supervision of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif, interior minister and head of the Supreme Hajj Committee; Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, governor of Makkah and chairman of the Central Hajj Committee; and Prince Faisal bin Salman, governor of Madinah and chairman of the region’s Hajj committee.

Lt. Gen. Sulaiman Al-Amro, general director of Civil Defense, thanked King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their support and procurement of all means aimed at guaranteeing that pilgrims can perform their Hajj rituals with ease.

Al-Amro added that Civil Defense efforts will focus on preventive measures, including raising awareness, ensuring the availability of security measures in all locations, and stressing the importance of safety principles and avoiding all dangers.

He said the plan includes joint training with concerned parties, and the distribution of Civil Defense services in order to quickly respond to emergency situations.

Makkah municipality also recruited over 23,000 workers to implement its plan for this year’s Hajj season. They will be on hand 24 hours a day, divided into several shifts and focusing on crowded areas.

These numbers are mind boggling. In comparison to the 3,000 CD vehicles and 17,000 CD personnel deployed to Makkah,  London Fire Brigade (according to Wikipedia) has 461 fire and rescue vehicles, and New York City has 340. London has 6,000 firefighters and FDNY has 11,000. 

 But when you have so many different organisations as all those which make plans for the Hajj, some small mistakes can creep in. Here's one such error, again reported in the "Arab News":

Saudi Hajj ministry investigating how gift to pilgrims was wrongly labelled ‘anthrax’

The Hajj and Umrah Ministry is investigating the inaccurate translation of the word “jamarat” into “anthrax,” which led to Sheikh Yusuf Estes making a video warning pilgrims of the mistake and its possible repercussions.

The translation concerned a bag that was a gift to pilgrims, containing small pebbles to use for the “stoning of the devil” upon their return from Muzdalifah. The bag had the correct original Arabic description, which roughly translates as “jamarat pebble bag,” whereas the English version of “jamarat” was translated into “anthrax,” a dangerous infectious disease.

According to SPA, the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah was notified and opened an investigation with the contractor and translator on August 10, before handing them to authorities to take the necessary disciplinary action. “Anthrax, where did they get that? They get it from Google, it’s not Google’s fault. Google allows people to tell the meaning of the different languages of words,” Sheikh Yusuf said in the video.

Google Translate, the free multilingual machine translator, relies on comparing large quantities of content between pairs of languages to establish patterns and, in most cases, determine the probability that certain words in one language will correspond with a set of words in another.

Sheikh Yusuf Estes’ video was intended for those who would like to take the small bags home as a souvenir or gift, sending a message that the mistranslation could cause the traveler trouble with customs in their own countries.

Green Hajj - an article from the Arab News

Hajj authorities in Saudi Arabia face the daunting task of cleaning up after 2.5 million people as the holy pilgrimage comes to an end. Rubbish bins and the streets around Islam’s holiest sites overflow with empty plastic bottles and other trash during the short Hajj season.

Some believe that most of the mess is caused by undocumented pilgrims – those without official permits. Those living and working in Makkah say that some people manage to slip through the pilgrim paperwork checkpoints set up by authorities. The undocumented pilgrims are usually without bookings or places to stay, instead setting up camp on sidewalks or secret locations.

But there is also the issue of density. All the holy Hajj sites are closely located to each other and the whole camp area covers eight kilometers square. Maintaining cleanliness among a population of millions on the move becomes a huge feat. Saudi Arabia spends more than SR2 billion ($530 million) on maintaining the holy sites of Makkah, making it the Kingdom’s largest environmental maintenance program. “The city of Makkah is not big, but the work that goes into it is massive,” Abdullah Al-Sibai, president of the Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research, told Arab News.

Mahmoud Al-Saati, general manager of hygiene at the Holy Makkah Municipality, said there were three cleaning phases that took place in the holy sites. All areas are cleaned before the pilgrims’ arrival, during the Hajj itself and once more after the pilgrims have left. “Before pilgrims arrive, we ensure that all areas are completely cleaned. During their stay, we try as much as possible to keep the place clean during the six days. Once they leave, we do a final clean and transport the waste outside the cities,” Al-Saati told Arab News.

Cleaners in action under close supervision

The municipality has around 138 ground warehouses and more than 1,300 waste compressor boxes across the holy sites. During the Hajj, waste is stored underground and overground. It is later transported 30 kilometers out of the city to landfills at the end of the pilgrimage. The ground storage containers can hold up to 70 cubic liters of waste and are distributed between the kitchens in Mina's tents, as well as roads and intersections.

Al-Saati also said a recycling initiative was under way. The greener Hajj idea dates back to 2010 and aims to create litter-free environments and contribute to clean waste mechanisms. This year there were four colored containers in the National Guard camps. Black containers were to collect organic waste, green for metal cans, yellow for paper and cardboard, and blue for plastic. The filled containers are discharged into a larger container that separates, squeezes and cuts the waste. It is then transported to another machine for the waste to be recycled. “In the long term, the initiative aims to contribute to finding practical solutions to manage waste at the holy sites, benefit from waste and recycle it,” Al-Saati said.

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