Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 30, 2008; Page A10
Poor Struggle to Donate to Temples as Food Prices Skyrocket....
NEW DELHI -- Every morning, Hindu devotees haul buckets of fresh, creamy milk into this neighborhood temple, then close their eyes and bow in prayer as the milk is used to bathe a Hindu deity. At the foot of the statue, they leave small baskets of bananas, coconuts, incense sticks and marigolds.
But recently, Ram Gopal Atrey, the head priest at Prachin Hanuman Mandir, noticed donations thinning for the morning prayers. He knew exactly why: inflation.
With prices soaring for staples such as cooking oils, wheat, lentils, milk and rice across the globe, priests like Atrey say they are seeing the consequences in their neighborhood temples, where even the poorest of the poor have long made donations to honor their faith.
"But today the common man is tortured by the increases in prices," Atrey lamented during one early morning prayer, or puja, adding that donations of milk were down by as much as 50 percent. He had recently met with colleagues from other temples, along with imams from local mosques, who reported similar experiences. "If poor people don't even have enough for bread, how will they donate milk to the gods?" he said. "This is very serious."
From Haiti to Senegal to Thailand, prices for basic food supplies have skyrocketed in recent months. The increases have been attributed to a confluence of factors including sharply rising fuel prices, droughts in food-producing countries and the diversion of some crops to produce biofuels. In India, milk prices rose because of increases in gasoline prices, which made it more expensive to transport the product from dairy farms to cities.
The U.N. World Food Program has said that more than 100 million people are being driven deeper into poverty by sharply rising food prices, which have sparked riots and protests from Bangladesh to Egypt. The crisis is serious in India, where nearly half the children younger than 3 are undernourished, a higher rate than in sub-Saharan Africa, according to UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children.
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