Islamabad - Most of Pakistan's Muslims will be unable to join in Eid celebrations with the traditional animal sacrifice this week as cattle prices have more than doubled in the wake of the country's fatal floods.
After two months of catastrophic late summer flooding swept hundreds of thousands of animals away, livestock traders say supply is so short that they have had to hike prices beyond the means of lower and middle class families.
The annual Islamic holiday, which falls from November 17 to 19 in Pakistan, is marked by the ritual sacrifice after morning prayers of sheep, goats, cows and other livestock whose meat is then shared with the poor.
But the average price of a goat has climbed to 21 000 rupees ($250), according to an AFP survey of markets in five cities across Pakistan -- a sum far too high for most families in the impoverished and largely rural nation.
Sheep were fetching the equivalent of between $175 and $300 and the price of an average cow was $400, while the more highly-prized bulls were being sold for up to $1 100 dollars.
The government's fixed wage for a labourer is just $80 per month, while an average middle-class salary is about $230 per month.
"The rates are beyond my budget - it's not possible for me to perform this Islamic duty," said Sabih Ahmad in the western city of Quetta.
"I think more than half of the people will not be able to sacrifice animals this Eid."
Last year an average sheep cost $70, while a goat was $87 in local markets. Cows and bulls were being sold for between $230 and $300.
"So many animals were killed by the floods - this is basically the reason for the high rates," Hijab Khan, a cattle trader at a market in the outskirts of the northwestern city of Peshawar, told AFP.
An official report by Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority said that more than 300 000 cattle died in the devastating floods.
Despite Islamic charity banners and posters in all the major Pakistani cities asking people to take part in the sacrifice, it seems unlikely that many will be able to join in.
Javed Hussain, a livestock trader in Lahore, admitted that prices had risen and said business was badly affected.
"It's a big problem. We have bought the animals but nobody is buying," he said.
But another market trader, Jalil Khan, was not convinced the floods were the cause of the problem, saying: "A large number of animals are being smuggled to Afghanistan."
Cattle fetch even higher prices in the neighbouring war-torn country, where livestock is in short supply all year round.
In the capital Islamabad and the adjacent city of Rawalpindi, traders blamed the shortage of animals for the soaring prices, but buyers blamed the beleaguered and widely unpopular government for failing to control prices.
"There is no price control mechanism so the traders are demanding their own high prices," said buyer Khalid Khan, adding that he would pool his funds with others to buy one animal for the slaughter this year.
Islamic charities have been offering families a share in a collective sacrifice for about $100, itself a hike from only $65 to $85 last year.