Simplicity is on the menu for Sudanese Muslims breaking the daytime fast during the holy month of Ramadan this year, as months of rising prices have forced them to scrimp in the face of an economic crisis.
Food costs have been the main driver for Sudan’s “alarming” inflation levels, the World Bank said before prices rose even higher in June, to 37 percent year-on-year. Monthly inflation from May to June was almost 10 percent.
Consumers have been struggling since South Sudan’s separation in July 2011 threw the north’s economy into turmoil as oil revenues were lost.
But Ramadan has accentuated the challenge.
Amal Omar, a mother of five, said her family will this year do without hilumur, a traditional holy month drink made from sorghum.
“And the meat and sweets will disappear from our Ramadan meals,” she said at a market in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.
The month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk began on Friday.
“Iftar meals are very poor compared with past years,” said another shopper, Esam Omar, 48.
Traders have said that the price of beef more than doubled over the past year, to around 37 Sudanese pounds ($7.4) a kilogram (2.2 pounds). A plate of ful, a poor man’s fare across the Arab world, has gone up over the same period from two Sudanese pounds to four or five.
On June 16, at the University of Khartoum, students began protesting high food prices.
After the government announced austerity measures, including tax hikes and an end to cheap fuel, scattered Arab Spring-style protests calling for the end of President Omar al-Bashir’s regime spread around the capital and to other parts of Sudan.
Sudan has lost billions of dollars in oil receipts since South Sudan gained independence, taking with it about 75 percent of Sudanese crude production.
Failure to agree with South Sudan over fees for use of the north’s oil export infrastructure cost the Sudanese economy a further $2.4 billion, Finance Minister Ali Mahmud al-Rasul has said.
The north has been left struggling for revenue, plagued by inflation and a weakening currency, alongside a severe shortage of dollars to pay for imports.
Sudan, with more than 30 million people, has a poverty rate of 46.5 percent, the United Nations says.
While the millions of poor have yet to join the youth-driven street protests, people have for months privately voiced frustration with the daily battle for survival.
“We were struggling to feed our children before Ramadan,” said Daud Osman, 48.
The situation is “more difficult” during the holy month when families traditionally spend more, he said at a city market where traders complained of a lack of customers.
Osman said his family will eat meat only twice a week this month.
“We are suffering more because our consumption of some things like sugar has gone up” during Ramadan, complained Saleh Mohammed, 58, a civil servant.
“And the price of sugar is rising.”
Sumaya Ahmed said her evening iftar meals will have only two simple dishes, ful and asida, a sorghum-based concoction.
“We will even have the accompanying salad without tomato, because tomato prices are very high,” she said.