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Charities plan food aid for struggling Egyptians during Ramadan

CAIRO (Reuters) - Millions of Egyptians struggling to cope with economic hardship caused by austerity measures will get some relief during the coming Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as charities offer food aid to needy families.

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Volunteers have been busy preparing half a million staple food boxes for the poor. Others are preparing to set up 60 massive tents across the country to serve the iftar meals that follow dawn-to-dusk fasting during Ramadan.

“We are giving out the largest box in Egypt,” said Sherif Azzouz, head of the volunteer network at Misr El Kheir, one of the charities involved.

Each box weighs 25 kg (55 lbs) and contains 16 products, including rice, pasta, ghee, sugar, flour, orzo, wheat and tea.

“This goes to all those who have been deemed eligible by Misr El Kheir and any of our partner charities, and are distributed in Upper Egypt, starting from Fayoum to Aswan, and also in some parts of the Delta,” he told Reuters.

Azzouz said Misr El Kheir, working with other smaller charities, hoped to feed a total of 10 million fasting people across 22 of the country’s 27 provinces.

Egypt has imposed tough economic reforms under a $12 billion IMF loan program, including deep cuts to energy subsidies and new taxes that have brought hardship for many.

A currency float in late 2016 caused Egypt’s pound to roughly halve in value, pushing prices sharply higher in the import-dependent country.

Food demand soars during Ramadan as families stock up on supplies, causing further price rises.

Ahead of Ramadan, Egypt’s Ministry of Supply said it was storing essential goods at state outlets and selling subsidized products to keep prices under control.

“One of our larger contributions is around 3.5 billion Egyptian pounds ($198 million) worth of subsidized products that are available to 70 million citizens,” said Mohamed Sweed, a ministry spokesman. They include sugar, oil, rice and pasta.

Ramadan is expected to start in Egypt on May 17 this year. The first day of the holy month often varies from country to country, depending on lunar sightings.

(This story corrects paragraph 6 to say 22 of the country’s 27 provinces, not the country’s 22 provinces.)

Reporting by Mohamed Zaki; writing Sami Aboudi; editing by Andrew Roche