How Saudi Arabia cleans up after 2.5m Hajj pilgrims

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The cleaning happens in three cycles: before, during and after the Hajj pilgrimage. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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With nearly 2.5million pilgrims there’s a lot of waste that has to be collected. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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The Hajj site area is the equivalent to about 80 football pitches. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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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. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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The cleaning begins before the pilgrimage starts. (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 16 August 2019

How Saudi Arabia cleans up after 2.5m Hajj pilgrims

  • The clean-up at the holy sites begins before the pilgrims arrive
  • Nearly 2.5 million people fill a site the equivalent of 80 football pitches through the pilgrimage

MINA: 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 areas in Makkah are cleaned before the pilgrims’ arrival, during the Hajj itself and once more after the pilgrims have left. (SPA)

All the holy Hajj sites are closely located to each other and the whole 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.

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 authorities also have a fleet of cleaning machines, as well as feet on the ground.  (AN Photo/Huda Bashatah)

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.


US Secretary of Defense Esper meets King Salman, asks NATO to protect Saudi Arabia from Iran

King Salman receives US Secretary of Defense. (SPA)
Updated 22 October 2019

US Secretary of Defense Esper meets King Salman, asks NATO to protect Saudi Arabia from Iran

  • The meeting with King Salman tackled joint security and defense issues
  • Esper will urge allies to contribute more to the defense of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region to counter Iran’s threats

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman received US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper in his office on Tuesday to discuss strategic cooperation between Riyadh and Washington, state news agency SPA reported.
“Today, I discussed the deployment of US forces and equipment to #SaudiArabia with @KingSalman,” Esper tweeted following the meeting. 

The meeting, where top officials from both countries were also present, also tackled joint security and defense issues and the situation in the region.
“We agree with the need to take a firm defensive stance in the region to deter Iranian malign behavior and promote stability,” he added.
Esper then met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to review bilateral relations, particularly in the military and defense sectors, as well as a number of issues of mutual interest and regional and international developments.
The US defense secretary arrived in the Kingdom a day earlier on an unannounced visit, with tensions simmering between Washington and Tehran, and Russia seeking to boost its influence in the Middle East.
US-Iran tensions have risen to new highs since May 2018, when the Trump administration withdrew from an international accord that put limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
As reinstated sanctions put pressure on Iran’s economy, there have been a series of attacks which Washington and close allies blame on Tehran. Iran denies responsibility.
Also on Tuesday, the US defense secretary visited the Prince Sultan Air Base, where he met with troops and assessed the capabilities that the US has deployed to the region to help defend Saudi Arabia, deter Iran and prevent conflict.

Esper got a look at one of the Patriot batteries as he toured the military base.

Esper said he will urge allies later this week to contribute more to the defense of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region to counter threats from Iran.
The plan is part of a broader US effort to get NATO allies to take on more responsibility for Gulf security. That has included US pleas for nations to send ships, aircraft and air defense systems to the region.
The US has already agreed to send three Patriot missile batteries, dozens of fighter jets and other aircraft to Saudi Arabia. 
He says the Saudis will “help underwrite” some of the US costs for the additional aid, which includes about 3,000 American troops.