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Algeria

In Algeria, Ramadan Comes With COVID And Water Shortages

With water rationing, soaring food prices and an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, Algerians begin the month of fasting in difficult conditions.

People buying food in a market on the first day of the month of Ramadan in Algiers
People buying food in a market on the first day of the month of Ramadan in Algiers
Safia Ayache

ALGIERS — "We have a president who talks to us about oil, meat and Semolina," says Hafid. Speaking from his farm in eastern Algeria, the comments refer to an interview given by Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a week before the start of Ramadan on April 13. The Head of State assured that food products would be available, but also warned against speculators, accused in recent weeks of forcing the price of certain basic products — including oil — to soar.

The words apparently have not reassured ordinary Algerians, as the holy month of prayer, fasting and family gatherings begins. "It is not at the time of Ramadan that I will restrict myself," says Hafid, citing the additional expenses for the various dishes — dates, fermented milk, dried fruit, cheese — that will garnish the family table to break the daily fast. "Fortunately I have my sheep, so I will not have to buy imported meat."

After oil, it is the rising meat prices that has upset consumers, and led to calls for a national boycott. In an attempt to reduce prices, the authorities proceeded in early April to issue exceptional authorizations for the import of frozen red meat from Spain. And to fight against speculative practices, the government intends to deploy 20,000 control agents throughout the country of 43 million.

The rise in consumer prices, normal at the time of Ramadan, is extreme this year.

The rise in consumer prices, normal at the time of Ramadan, is extreme this year in large part because of the impact of COVID-19 on businesses, production and manufacturing networks, says Hadj Tahar Boulenouar, president of the National Association of Merchants and Artisans. But there is also the devaluation of the national currency, the dinar, which pushes up the prices of foreign imports. This trend is directly reflected in consumer prices, as "more than 70%" of household needs "depend on imports," the economist Smaïl Lalmas told the daily El Watan.

Since the beginning of the health crisis, nearly 500,000 jobs have been lost, according to initial estimates made in December by the Algerian authorities. In the construction sector alone, the country has lost 150,000 jobs, while a reported 70% of companies are operating at less than 50% of their capacity.

This month of Ramadan could also suffer from another crisis: that of water, with rationing required despite denials by the government. On April 5 in Bordj El Kiffan, located in the eastern suburbs of Algiers, dozens of residents blocked the national road that crosses the town as well as the tramway lines to express their frustration.

Distribution of food during Ramadan in Algiers in May 2020 — Photo: Ammi Louiza/Abaca via ZUMA Press

"The water is cut off from the beginning of the evening until the next morning, but sometimes the cuts are not made at fixed times' says Latifa, a resident of downtown Algiers.

On March 22, the director general of the Algerian Water Company, Hocine Zaïr, warned that the country will move towards a distribution system of "every other day" if the water reserves are not replenished. Algeria has faced a growing decline in rainfall and a filling rate of dams to 44%, said the official.

Minister of Water Resources Mustapha Kamel Mihoubi has ensured "maintaining the supply to the population in a continuous manner during the month of Ramadan." But in the capital, inhabitants are not very confident and some have already taken measures into their own hands, installing additional water tanks on balconies or roofs of buildings.

As for small towns that are not connected to running water, locals have been relying on community solidarity for many years. On his farm, Hafid had an underground tank dug that can hold hundreds of liters.

"Whenever I need to fill it or irrigate my trees, I call my neighbor and cousin who has a well," he says. "I ended up installing pipes that connect directly to his tank, and I pay him by the hour to compensate for the electricity consumption of the water pump." Yes, family bonds are important all year round.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

Keep reading...Show less

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