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Saudi Haj managers impress global crowd control experts

Saudi Arabia, September 6, 2017

Crowd management is not an easy task. Governments and security forces across the world find it difficult to manage huge crowds of people at festivals and sports events. It has become a complete science that demands security and logistical support and provision of various services in addition to research and experience.

According to the United Nations, world population is expected to cross nine billion by 2025, making crowd management even more difficult and a big challenge in coming years, experts said.

The Kumbh Mela in India, which is held after every three years, draws millions of Hindu faithful from all over the country. It’s considered the largest religious event in the world with the participation of about 70 million people from India and abroad. It’s a kind of Hindu pilgrimage when the faithful intend to cleanse their sins by bathing in River Ganges.

The Haj pilgrimage in Makkah, when Saudi Arabia hosts about three million Muslim faithful from the Kingdom and around the globe, is the second largest human congregation after Kumbh Mela. Saudi Haj managers find it difficult to control this huge crowd as they assemble in a limited space in Makkah and other holy sites during the peak days of the annual pilgrimage.

More than seven million pilgrims come to the holy places in the Kingdom throughout the year to perform Umrah or the lesser pilgrimage. World Cup football extravaganzas draw hundreds of thousands of soccer fans from around the world. Last events in South Africa and Brazil, which were held in 2010 and 2014 respectively, attracted 3.5 million each.

International organizations have recognized Saudi Arabia’s ability to manage huge crowds of worshippers during mammoth Haj and Umrah seasons when millions of pilgrims stay within a limited space of 17 km.

“The most challenging thing is that these pilgrims speak more than 100 languages and they follow different cultures, customs and traditions and lifestyle and have different racial backgrounds,” said an expert.

“You cannot find three million people staying in a limited space for a week, performing various religious rituals. They live in a spiritual atmosphere enjoying full security, tranquility and comfort,” he said.

Saudi Arabia mobilizes all its human and material resources to ensure security, comfort and welfare of the Guests of God. It deploys more than 100,000 military and security forces in around Makkah and the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah giving pilgrims a feeling of safety, security and tranquility.

The Kingdom has been developing and upgrading its security machinery acquiring advanced equipment and providing training to its officers to ensure security of Hajis and help them perform their rituals with peace of mind.

The hi-tech Jamarat Bridge in Mina, where Hajis perform their stoning-the-Satan ritual, has won the Hanz Edelman Award for the best applied and operational research in 2015 among hundreds of projects nominated for the prestigious prize.

The bridge was instrumental in crowd management and reducing accidents at the Jamarat, which has witnessed several fatal accidents in the past.

“We cannot see such a high-level of crowd management anywhere in the world, except in Saudi Arabia during the Haj pilgrimage,” Al-Hayat Arabic daily reported quoting Dr. Sala Yanoya, a UN representative.

The UN official commended the accumulated experience gained by Saudi Arabia in crowd management over the past several years, adding that this has made the Kingdom No. 1 in the field.

Speaking at an international conference, Yanoya commended Saudi Arabia for its successful efforts in crowd management. She said South Africa benefited from Saudi crowd management experience while hosting World Cup.

“Saudi Arabia attained this exceptional achievement through its long experience in Haj management, enabling millions of pilgrims to perform Haj rituals every year,” she pointed out. Yanoya said the Kingdom has also learned from the experience of other countries in crowd management to deal with crowds during Haj and Umrah.

Crowd management is a science and countries and organizations around the world give utmost importance to this science and seek better solutions in advance of big festivals and gatherings. Many countries have learned a lot from the Kingdom’s experience in Haj management, how it readies security forces for the annual gathering and how it deals with people speaking different languages and having different cultural and racial backgrounds.