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Somalis Mark Ramadan Amid Record Drought

FILE - Hadiiq Abdulle Mohamed holds one of her children as she speaks during an interview with Associated Press at an internally displaced people camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, Friday, March 24, 2023.

MOGADISHU — This year's holy month of Ramadan takes place during the longest drought on record in Somalia. As the sun sets and Muslims around the world gather to break their daily fasts with generous dinners, Hadiiq Abdulle Mohamed and her family have just water and whatever food might be at hand.

Mohamed, her husband, and their six children had to flee their home, and now take refuge in one of the growing internal displacement camps around the capital, Mogadishu.

Ramadan brought an increase in food prices for a country already struggling with inflation caused in part by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the withering of local crops by five consecutive failed rainy seasons.

Some 43,000 Somalis died from hunger in 2022, along with millions of livestock that are central to people's diets.

For Ramadan, Mohamed and her family rely on well-wishers to provide their single meal a day: water and bits of dates, then, donated rice cooked with mixed meat, bruised banana and a small plastic bag of juice, which Mohamed waits in line for hours under the searing sun to obtain.

"Do you think that this can feed a family of six children, plus a mother and father? That is not possible."

"I recall the Ramadan fast we had in the past when we were enjoying and prospering," she said. "We would milk our goats, cook the ugali (maize porridge) and collard greens and drink water from our catchment."

The family once was prosperous and owned farmland in a village about 140 kilometers west of the capital. Now they try to get by on the little money her husband makes by carrying goods in a wheelbarrow.

But food prices have soared so much that his income is no longer enough to buy a kilogram bag of rice.

The inflation in Somalia pinches the more well-off, too. The Horn of Africa nation imports the majority of its food, from Ukraine-grown wheat to the bottles of Mountain Dew stocked in some gleaming Mogadishu shops. Meanwhile, prices of basics like rice and cooking oil continue to rise in parts of the country.

World Food Program reported that supply chain resilience was generally good in Somalia, but the spike in demand for Ramadan is "a disadvantage to vulnerable households who depend on local markets."

"We are really experiencing a soaring price of food and another basic commodities," said Ahmed Khadar Abdi Jama, a lecturer in economics at Somalia University.

For example, a kilogram of camel meat that cost about $4 before the holy month now costs about $6. But this inflation will subside after the month is over, Khadar said.

With the growing number of Somalis displaced by the drought, the imams of the mosques in Mogadishu are leading efforts to encourage the city's wealthy and others who can afford it to sympathize with the poor and give generously.

"Some people need food to afford to break their fast," said one imam, Sheikh Abdikarim Isse Ali. "Please help them."