Horrific road accidents involving Umrah pilgrims spark concern


LONDON: Four members of a Riyadh-based Indian family, who were returning from Makkah after performing Umrah, died when their car collided with a truck, 150 km away from the capital.
Mazhar Hussaini, from Bangalore, his father-in-law Syed Ahmad, mother-in-law Mukhtar Begum and his younger daughter Rida Hussaini lost their lives in the crash.
The family is survived by an 11-year-old daughter, who sustained minor injuries. The victims were buried in Riyadh on Friday.
“The Umrah trip was very good for the family till they met with the unfortunate accident,” said a family friend.
“They went to Madinah to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque and performed Umrah in Makkah. They had almost reached Riyadh … It is an unbearable loss for devastated relatives in India,” he told Arab News.
Such stories now appear in media with alarming frequency as terror faced by pilgrims in nomadic era is now replaced by modern day road rages.
Despite massive earnings from round the year pilgrimage and colossal oil wealth Saudi Arabia is still poor in traffic management  and alarming rise in horrific road accidents involving pilgrims is causing anguish in many Muslim communities. A leading British Muslim group has formally demanded better arrangements for safety of the pilgrims.
The Association of British Hujjaj (pilgrims) UK (ABH), a National Hajj and Umrah specific organisation Tuesday expressed its ‘deepest sorrow and sadness’ at tragic deaths of a substantial number of Umrah pilgrims in a series of road accidents that took place on the Makkah-Madinah highway in the recent days and months.
“It is highly regrettable that every year a large number of innocent pilgrims are losing their precious lives in such terrible circumstances. Horrific scenes of the accident’s aftermath and pictures and reports coming through caused immense grief and distress. We would like to send our condolence and sympathies to the family and friends of the deceased pilgrims.” said Khalid Pervez, General Secretary of the Association of British Hujjaj (Pilgrims) UK.
The journey of over 300 km between Makkah to Madinah takes more than five hours. The long distance driving by bus drivers in warm weather and lack of sleep and rest can be lethal and are considered as contributing factors in most of the tragic road accidents.
According to WHO statistics, a car accident occurs every second, while 17 people are killed in crashes every day on average in the Saudi Kingdom.
Saudi Gazette quoting data from Red Crescent Committee citied Saudi Arabia recording 526,000 accidents annually with up to 17 deaths daily, according to the committee’s head Ahmad Al-Shaikha.
The usual causes of accidents include the use of cell phones while driving, ignoring the red light, overtaking from the wrong side and stopping in areas designated for people with special needs and vehicles running with worn out tyres.
The WHO report noted that road accidents claim the lives of over 1.2 million a year, and that 90 percent of these occur in developing countries despite the fact that they contain only 54 percent of the total number of cars in the world.
WHO attributed the deaths to the absence of laws regulating driving behavior, as well as the high speed limits in these countries, in addition to the lack of good road planning.
“There’s a need for a more strict implementation of traffic laws in the Kingdom in view of the lack of discipline among drivers, which frequently results in arguments between drivers,” according to a report in the Arab News.
Public Security Director in Makkah Othman Al-Mihrij was quoted by Arab News as saying that, Saudi Arabia has failed to meet the challenge of traffic accidents that remain the leading cause of deaths in the Kingdom.
“The traffic problem in the Kingdom has become a huge challenge, and the major responsibility for it lies with the public security system, as represented by the General Directorate of Traffic,” he said.
Speaking during a recent meeting with the managers of traffic departments of all regions of the Kingdom in Riyadh, Al-Mihrij said that expansion of cities, urban development and the increasing number of cars are the reasons behind the problem.
Observers say, besides stampedes and crane crashes (like in 2015), horrific road accidents are now the largest killer of pilgrims visiting the holy land.
On Friday three Pakistani Umrah pilgrims and a bus driver were killed in an accident that took place on the Makkah-Madinah highway. The accident also caused eleven injures.
On May 8, four Umrah pilgrims were killed and 45 injured when a bus transporting them met an acid near Madinah. 17 injured pilgrims were Egyptians, 14 Pakistanis, 6 Yemenis, 7 Sudanese and one  Indian.
Earlier on April 30, a return drive from Makkah after performing Umra became the last journey for four members of a Kashmiri family who met with an accident, 50 km from the holy city.
Three of them died on the spot, while one of them lost the battle for life while undergoing treatment at a hospital.
Bashir Ahmad Mir, 40, a native of Batmalu, Srinagar was returning with his family members from Makkah after performing Umrah. Their vehicle overturned after he lost control on the Makkah-Madinah Expressway.
Bashir, his father Mohammed Siddique Mir, and daughter Maryam died at the scene, whereas his wife died later in the night.
His mother and another child, who sustained multiple injuries, were undergoing treatment in a Jeddah hospital and were reported to be in critical condition.
Death on roads is only adding to the pilgrim woes as thousands of pilgrims have lost their lives in stampedes and crowd crushes between 1990 and 2015.
ABH meanwhile has strongly urges the relevant authorities to take this issue with extreme seriousness and take appropriate actions to ensure the safety of pilgrims from around the world
while they are performing Hajj/Umrah.

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