KHARTOUM - Unlike millions of Muslims worldwide, Sudanese are welcoming the holy fasting month of Ramadan with a sense of concern over the skyrocketing prices and economic woes gripping the Arab country.
"It's the most difficult Ramadan we're facing because everything is so expensive, Huda Abdullah, who works for a state university, told Reuters on Thursday, July 19.
We are buying much less meat this year because we just cannot afford it.
Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, is expected to start on Friday, July 20.
Sudanese are used to stock up on meat, spices and sweets to prepare lavish iftars for families during the holy fasting month.
But the price hikes of vegetables and meat ahead of Ramadan have spoiled the Sudanese joy of the fasting month.
"My four sisters, I and my father share our income but it's just not enough to buy enough food for a family," Abdullah said, checking grapefruit prices at Khartoum's central food market.
Sudan has been facing a harsh economic crisis since the secession of the oil-rich South Sudan last year, depriving Khartoum of a main source of foreign currency.
The loss of oil revenues has exacerbated a dollar scarcity, fuelling inflation because Sudan needs to import much of its food needs.
Demand for imported food items needed for Ramadan meals, such as meat or sugar used for special juices and sweets, has knocked down the Sudanese pound close to an historic low.
A dollar bought between 6 and 6.1 pounds on the black market on Thursday, close to a historic low of 6.2 reached in May when border fighting with South Sudan escalated.
The central bank this month devalued the pound against the dollar by setting the exchange rate at between 4.3 and 4.7 from 2.7 previously to bridge the gap with black market rates.
But a failure to pump sufficient dollars into the banking system makes import firms turn back to the black market.
"You don't find sufficient dollars to satisfy demand. It's getting worse," one black market dealer said.
The skyrocketing prices have spoiled the Ramadan joy of many Sudanese.
"Vegetables are so expensive, everything is expensive, expensive, expensive," Sabah, a shopper, told Reuters.
"Why aren't government officials doing anything? Don't they buy anything?"
Sudanese officials expect inflation to rise further as the government scales back petrol subsidies to help close the 6.5 billion pound ($1.4 billion) budget gap left by the loss of oil revenues.
Traders in the dusty central market said prices for basic food items such as sugar have doubled since last year.
"Sudan's food production is just too small to produce enough," a trader who gave his name as Sherji told Reuters.
Small-scale protests broke out in Sudan in the past few weeks over the growing economic woes in the country.
Youth activists have vowed to continue protests during Ramadan but it is unclear how many will heed the call as scorching heat keeps most people on fast indoors until sunset.
Protests have been so far limited to students, lawyers, intellectuals and pro-democracy activists who have rarely mustered more than a few hundred people at a time.President Omar Bashir, in power since 1989, has dismissed the protests, saying Sudan will not see an Arab spring, just a hot summer.