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Ramadan Kicks off in Much of Middle East Amid Soaring Prices

Ramadan Kicks off in Much of Middle East Amid Soaring Prices

Saturday, 2 April, 2022 - 08:30
People shop for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the Shorja wholesale market in central Baghdad, Iraq. FILE/REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan - when the faithful fast from dawn to dusk - began at sunrise Saturday in much of the Middle East, where Russia's invasion of Ukraine has sent energy and food prices soaring.

The conflict cast a pall over the holiday, when large gatherings over meals and family celebrations are a tradition.

Muslim-majority nations including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and the United Arab Emirates had declared the holiday would begin Saturday morning.

Many had hoped for a more cheerful holiday after the coronavirus pandemic cut off the world´s 2 billion Muslims from Ramadan rituals the past two years, With Russia´s invasion of Ukraine, however, millions of people in the Middle East are now wondering where their next meals will come from. The skyrocketing prices are affecting people whose lives were already upended by conflict, displacement and poverty from Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Yemen.

Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, which Middle East countries rely on to feed millions of people who subsist on subsidized bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and sunflower seed oil used for cooking.

Egypt, the world´s largest wheat importer, has received most of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine in recent years. The country´s currency has also taken a dive in recent days, adding to other pressures driving up prices.

"We were going to be affected, at any rate. We just pray that God will make this pass," said customer Hassan Ali Hassan, The Associated Press reported.

The soaring prices exacerbated the woes of Lebanese already facing a major economic crisis. Over the past two years, the currency collapsed and the country´s middle class was plunged into poverty. The country´s meltdown has also brought on severe shortages in electricity, fuel and medicine.

In the Gaza Strip, few people were shopping Friday in markets usually packed at this time of year. Merchants said Russia´s war on Ukraine has sent prices skyrocketing, alongside the usual challenges, putting a damper on the festive atmosphere that Ramadan usually creates.

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