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Jul 2, 2024, 2:52pm EDT
South Asia
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Semafor Signals

India witnesses another deadly stampede at a large religious gathering

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The News

A stampede at a religious gathering in northern India Tuesday has killed at least 100 people, mostly women and children, and left dozens more injured.

While the circumstances around the incident are still unclear, local officials cited overcrowding and sweltering heat as thousands of worshippers were leaving a prayer ceremony by a local Hindu preacher in the village of Hathras in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Poor crowd management has led to several deadly religious events

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Source:  
The New York Times

Some politicians blamed state and federal authorities for the repeated failures of crowd management at large religious gatherings. “As a nation we are good at drawing crowds, but not good at managing them,” a member of India’s parliament told The New York Times. “Every year, these kinds of incidents keep repeating themselves, and we learn nothing.” Local organizers reportedly let in dozens more attendees after exceeding the Hathras event’s permit for 5,000 people, the Times reported. Despite the recent increase in surveillance measures at religious gatherings, including drones, the lack of adequate emergency exits, have led to several deadly stampedes, including a 2013 Hindu religious celebration that also killed hundreds.

Some Indian states turn to AI and drones for crowd management

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Sources:  
NDTV, Indian Express, Tech Policy Press

Some Indian states are embracing AI tools for crowd management at mega events. The state leader of Uttar Pradesh, where Tuesday’s tragedy unfolded, urged local police last month to use “AI-based equipment and techniques… to keep an eye on crowd density” at Kumbh Mela 2025, one of India’s largest Hindu festivals that draws millions of devotees every three years. Authorities have also ramped up the use of surveillance drones at large events, with the south Indian city of Chennai establishing the country’s first “drone police unit” last year to spot suspects and check vehicle registration in real time at large gatherings. However, civil rights activists have warned that such tools could be misused to crush political dissent.

Climate change poses mounting challenges for mega events

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Sources:  
The New York Times, The Washington Post

“Crowd control and heat waves fueled by climate change are on a dangerous collision course,” The New York Times wrote last month, in the wake of extreme heat killing more than 1,300 Hajj pilgrims in Saudi Arabia and dozens of poll workers during India’s mammoth general election in summer. Event organizers have struggled to contend with just how deadly extreme heat can be for summer events, and have failed to adapt “infrastructure, emergency management and social calendars” to deal with the fallout of climate change, a climate scientist warned. Temperatures at Tuesday’s religious gathering in Hathras hit 90° Fahrenheit, and coupled with high humidity, may have led to the crush of people seeking a water source after the event, according to The Washington Post.

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