DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (HPD) — In almost every corner of the world, people are spending more on food and fuel, rent and transportation.
But inflation does not affect everyone equally. For migrants with relatives who depend on the money they send home, higher prices hit families twice: at home and abroad.
Migrant workers who send cash to loved ones in another country often save less because rising prices force them to spend more. For some, the only option is to work more, with weekend and night shifts, or take on a second job. For others, it means cutting back on basics like meat and fruit so they can send what remains of their savings to their families, who sometimes live under the threat of hunger or violence.
Carlos Huerta, a 45-year-old Mexican who works as a driver in New York City, used to send about $200 a week, but now he can barely save about $100 a week.
Across the Atlantic, Lissa Jataas, 49, sends about 200 euros ($195) each month from her office job in Cyprus to her family in the Philippines. To save money, she looks for cheaper food at the store and buys clothes at a charity shop.
“It’s about being resilient,” he said.
Economies already battered by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the effects of climate change suffered yet another setback with Russia’s war in Ukraine, which sent food and energy prices skyrocketing.
Those costs plunged 71 million people into poverty around the world in the weeks after the February invasion, which disrupted crucial grain deliveries from the Black Sea region, according to the United Nations Development Program.
When fuel and food cost more, the money that migrants can send people back to their families doesn’t go as far as it used to. The International Monetary Fund estimates that global inflation will reach 9.5% this year, but the figure is much higher in developing countries.
“The poorest people spend much more of their income on food and energy,” said Max Lawson, head of inequality at anti-poverty organization Oxfam.
Inflation, he noted, “fans the flames” of inequality. “It’s almost as if the poor are a kind of sponge that has to absorb the economic blow,” she explained.
Mahdi Warsama, 52, came to the United States from Somalia as a teenager. Now a US citizen, he works for the nonprofit Somali Parents Autism Network and sends between $3,000 and $300 a month to relatives in Somalia. He sometimes takes out loans to send money that his relatives need for medical bills and other emergencies.
Warsama, who lives between Columbus, Ohio, and Minneapolis, estimates that last month he sent $1,500 to help his relatives pay for basic expenses like food and water for themselves and their livestock.
Thousands of people have died in a drought gripping Somalia, and the United Nations estimates that half a million children are at risk of dying from malnutrition or near-famine.
“Just as we have inflation in the United States, in Somalia it is even worse,” he said. Sacks of rice, sugar and flour that used to cost $50 are now worth $70.
He has changed his spending habits, looking for ways to earn more money and keeping a close eye on rising interest rates and inflation, something he had never done until this year.
“I am more determined to work harder and earn more money,” Warsama said. “I have to be more aware of the fact that I have to help my family at home.”
In New York, Huerta has lived away from his wife and children for nearly 20 years. He has worked as a dishwasher or as a chauffeur for executives, whatever it takes to earn enough.
He said he sends about $200 a week to his wife and mother in Puebla, Mexico. He also learned to paint houses, so if there is no demand for a chauffeur, he can still earn about $150 a day.
He makes about $3,600 a month and the rent on his Queens apartment has gone up, so Huerta said he’s swapped beef for chicken, eats less fruit because prices have skyrocketed and has canceled his cable TV subscription. .
For Jaatas, who has lived in Cyprus for almost two decades, the six relatives he helps in the Philippines face not only rising prices, but also the effects of a typhoon that left them without water or electricity.
“We really like to help our family at home, regardless of disasters or shortages,” he explained.
The Philippines is the most food insecure emerging Asian country due to its reliance on imported food, according to an analysis by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Ester Beatty, who leads a delegation of the European Filipino Diaspora Network in Cyprus, said it is common for Filipinos on the Mediterranean island to work on Sundays to earn extra income and support relatives back home who have trouble paying for food. staples like rice or sugar.
Low-income families in developing countries are estimated to spend around 40% of their income on food, even taking into account government subsidies, said Peter Ceretti, a food security analyst at risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
Ali el-Sayyed Mohammed, 26, arrived in the United Arab Emirates in February after several years seeking employment in Egypt.
“Life is expensive and the salaries are not enough, so I took the step of leaving,” he said. “It was a difficult decision at the beginning, but the situation left me no choice.”
After the death of his father, Mohammed provides the main family income to support his mother and three sisters. He is from Beheira, a province in the Nile Delta where many young men have left and sometimes undertake dangerous journeys to cross the Mediterranean Sea and seek work in Europe.
With about $1,000 in savings, Mohammed arrived in Dubai and stayed with friends until he landed a job at one of Egypt’s most popular Egyptian restaurants, Hadoota Masreya.
The rising cost of living in Egypt, however, has further complicated his goal of saving enough to help his sister marry next year or secure his own future. Inflation has risen to around 16% in Egypt and the currency has been devalued, making life even more difficult for the millions of Egyptians living in poverty.
“I have many employees whose families depend on what they earn from the restaurant, and a large part of their income is sent back to their country so that people can live,” said Mohamed Younis, manager at Hadoota Masreya.
The restaurant recently raised wages to match the rising cost of living, he said.
More and more Egyptian men are contacting each other to look for work, Younis noted. He has a YouTube channel called “Restaurant Clinic” where he gives tips in Arabic to be successful in the restaurant industry. He warns that traveling to the UAE carries risks because finding a job takes time and money.
Back in Minnesota, Mohamed Aden, a 36-year-old bus driver, said he drives Uber at night to support his wife, children and siblings, who fled from Somalia to Kenya due to violence in their homeland.
His family does not yet have a work permit in Kenya and relies on money he sends home, nearly half of his $2,000 monthly income.
But now he pays more for fuel and food prices are higher in Kenya, so money doesn’t go as far.
Aden tries to visit Kenya every year in December during the cold Minnesota winter.
“This year I can’t, because of inflation,” he explained. “I’m the only one here, feeding the family (…) but I’ll come back when I get the money.”
Ahmed reported from Minneapolis, Torrens from New York, and Hadjicostis from Nicosia, Cyprus.