Cairo, Apr 2 (EFE).- The food price hike driven by the war in Ukraine has tarnished the festive spirit of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which was marred by the coronavirus pandemic in the past couple of years.
With the coronavirus curbs lifted, the Middle East marks on Saturday the beginning of Ramadan amid a crisis that threatens to further impoverish an area that has not yet recovered from the consequences of the pandemic.
According to the World Food Program, the war in Ukraine is driving famine in the Middle East and North Africa as the region imports products such as wheat and cereals mainly from Ukrainian territory and Russia.
“The prices are crazy,” Um Imran told Efe at Baghdad’s old market. “I have been wandering around the Al Shorya market to buy my family’s needs for the month of Ramadan, but I don’t think I can buy everything”.
To tackle the prices, the Iraqi government has taken measures such as the cancellation of customs duties on basic products and boosting ration cards.
These measures, however, have not prevented a drop in demand during the month of Ramadan in which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and refrain from smoking or sexual intercourse among behaviours during daylight hours.
In a central Amman supermarket Gadir Masalha, a Jordanian housewife, told Efe that the situation this year was “really surprising” as the prices rose but wages have not budged in over two years.
“We can hardly afford to buy basic products,” she lamented, blaming the government for its perceived compliance with merchants, “who always take advantage of any international conflict to increase prices.”
The government has already fined hundreds of merchants for price hikes, although the Amman Chamber of Commerce has justified that the rise is in line with global markets.
In recent weeks, the Egyptian pound has fallen around 15% against the US dollar, which together with the war in Ukraine, has caused a further increase in the prices of products.
This has affected the Egyptians’ massive purchases for Ramadan as “people in the market were looking at the prices with surprise,” Altaf al Shal, a 65-year-old retiree told Efe.
Among the products that have become more expensive are meat, bread and vegetables, which has resulted in a considerable reduction in purchases, she said.
“People are suffering, especially the middle and lower classes”.
In Sudan, the devaluation of the Sudanese pound has not only caused a commercial halt but also many vendors have been forced to close their shops.
Othman al-Tom, owner of a small supermarket, says he is in a “very stressful” situation and limited by the increase in prices, mainly those of sugar and flour, which have risen over 100% compared to last month, he said.
A pressing economic recession and a recent coup d’état in Sudan have exacerbated the global price crisis and the consequences of the coronavirus crisis.
The state “has left us alone to face our destiny,” Ali Jalal a Khartoum resident told Efe.
The global rise in prices adds to food inflation that Lebanon has already been struggling with due to the serious economic crisis that broke out in the end of 2019.
The crisis has pushed nearly 80 percent of the Lebanese people into poverty and wiped out almost 90 percent of the value of the local currency.
Kotaiba, a 26-year-old resident of a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in the capital, told Efe that his family cannot keep alive the tradition of gathering in Beirut to break their fast.