Reduced carbon footprint, less waste and more environmentally friendly actions: the restricted pilgrimage to Mecca due to the Covid-19 pandemic, could pave the way for a “green hajj” (“pilgrimage” in French). In addition to being a logistical and security puzzle, the pilgrimage which is usually one of the largest religious gatherings in the world, was also a challenge for the environment.
The passage, in a short time and in a limited space, of millions of faithful from different countries created a tsunami for the environment: atmospheric pollution generated by tens of thousands of transport vehicles, tens of thousands of tons of waste of all kinds and overconsumption of water.
“Everything is clean”
This year, however, everyone admitted that the air was breathable hajj, which took place with the participation of tens of thousands of faithful. As a reminder last year, some 2.5 million faithful from all over the world participated in the pilgrimage.
“Everything is clean and there are few municipal workers to pick up the rare garbage,” said Azim Allah Farha, a pilgrim from Afghanistan who has performed the hajj several times, on Mount Arafat, 20 km away. eastern Mecca, the site of one of the essential pilgrimage rituals.
One of these workers, Rahim Fajreddine, remembers the hundreds of tons of garbage left each time, in recent years, by the faithful on Mount Arafat where they spend a day to invoke the mercy of God. “Many workers were mobilized to clean up all this waste,” he recalls.
13,000 cleaners in holy places
The environment was not, until recently, at the center of the concerns of the Saudi authorities when it came to hajj. The Saudi rulers, who have taken on the title of “guardians of the two holy mosques” of Mecca and Medina, were only concerned with welcoming the greatest number of pilgrims.
This explains the enormous extensions in recent decades to increase the reception capacity of the two mosques and to develop the sites of the pilgrims’ routes which have been largely concreted.
But in 2018, the municipality of Mecca had launched a waste sorting program and started to consider recycling them. Signs in several languages were then installed to encourage pilgrims to sort their waste. This year, despite the drastic limitation on the number of pilgrims, the municipality has deployed more than 13,000 cleaners to the holy places, equipped with hundreds of dumpsters and other devices, according to an official statement.
Huge amounts of solid waste have to be stored and their recycling is being considered as part of a project that is under study.
“Millions of pilgrims in total symbiosis with their environment”
“This year’s hajj, although taking place at a difficult time on a global scale, can be a source of hope,” said Nouhad Awwad, who collaborates with Greenpeace campaigns in the Middle East and South Africa. North. “It gives an idea of what could be (…) a green pilgrimage,” she told AFP.
According to her, what happened today under the effect of “force majeure” must in the future be “the fruit of a choice”. “By investing in sustainable development and adopting green practices, we can continue to live our traditions and perform our rituals while keeping our skies clear of pollution and our streets free of waste, “she said. And imagine a” hajj with its millions of pilgrims in total symbiosis with their environment in a Mecca powered by solar energy “.
Utopia or real possibility in a country which is the world’s leading oil exporter and which has not initiated an energy transition? This is “the future we should all work for,” assured the activist, optimistic.