Mecca: A smaller carbon footprint, less waste and more environmentally-friendly — this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca, dramatically scaled down due to coronavirus, has opened up the prospect of a “green hajj”. The procession of so many worshippers, over a short time and in a limited space, results in an assault on the desert kingdom’s delicate environment.
This year’s hajj, limited to a maximum of 10,000 attendees, was by all accounts literally a breath of fresh air. But for environmental activist Nouhad Awwad, it’s not so much the size of the crowd that determines the impact on the environment but more “our collective behaviour”.
It gives an idea of what a green pilgrimage could look like,” Nouhad Awwad said. Even the pebbles they use to symbolically “stone the devil” have been sanitised, as part of elaborate amenity kits provided by authorities that include disinfectant and masks.
“Everything is clean and there are only a few municipal workers collecting the small amounts of garbage,” Azim Allah Farha, a pilgrim from Afghanistan who has performed the hajj several times before, said at Mount Arafat, the site of one of the main rituals.
One of those workers, Rahim Fajreddine, recalls the tonnes of plastic bags, cans and food plates — left in past years at the rocky hill outside Mecca where pilgrims pray and repent in the high point of the hajj.
This year, the municipality deployed more than 13,000 cleaners to the holy sites, equipped with hundreds of skips.
Awwad said, in the future the same outcome must be achieved by choice.