Turkish lira crisis hits Idlib in Syria

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Turkey’s currency crisis spilled over into the opposition-held Syrian city, which adopted the lira more than a year ago.

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Jameel Barakat says that living in the northwestern city of Idlib in Syria was never easy. But the Turkish lira crisis next door and skyrocketing inflation have made running their small business a nightmare.

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“Production prices change every day, and customers are in disbelief,” Barakat tells Al Jazeera. “And of course you have to take into account fares and transportation costs.”

The Turkish lira fell to a record low against the US dollar earlier this week, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended a sharp cut in interest rates. In the past year, Turkish currency Lost About 40 percent of its value, and inflation is approaching 20 percent.

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Turkey’s financial crisis has spread to opposition-held Idlib in neighboring Syria, which adopted the Turkish currency more than a year ago. About 4.4 million people live in Idlib, about half of whom are displaced.

“It’s not only monetary ties with Turkey but trade connections as well,” Karam Shar, research director at the Syrian think-tank Operations and Policy Center, told Al Jazeera. “Bab al-Hawa, the most important border crossing with Turkey, is effectively controlled by HTS [Hayet Tahrir al-Sham],

“Everything is imported here,” says Barkat, pointing to all his fruits and vegetables. “Do we have a garden or a garden here?”

Mohamed al-Ahmed is also struggling to keep his bakery in business, with prices for flour and fuel skyrocketing – all brought in from Turkey.

“At this rate, it would cost three lira ($0.24) to produce a bundle of bread, but we have no choice but to sell it for 2.5,” says Al-Ahmad. “We have to work at a loss but how will people tolerate it?”

About 4.4 million people live in Idlib, about half of whom are displaced citizens. [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Al-Ahmad says that with the cost of wheat and fuel rising internationally, Turkey’s financial crisis is an additional burden for him and about a dozen employees. “I mean you can see in Lebanon that they also have a wheat and fuel crisis.”

Shar says Syrians in Idlib will struggle to cope with price shocks, especially as its weak economy relies heavily on international aid to subsist.

“When the Turkish currency depreciates, prices adjust quickly,” he explains. “But because wages are sticky and take longer to adjust, people can no longer afford commodities.”

Many people are borrowing money to buy groceries or asking shop owners like Fareed Mahloul if they can return them later.

“Every day there is something new, the lira goes up and down and it is difficult to price things properly,” Mahloul tells Al Jazeera. “When customers cannot pay us back on time, we operate at a major loss as the value of the lira continues to decline.”

‘So difficult’

Mahloul says he is doing everything he can to keep his small grocery store in Idlib in business. “It’s just that hard.”

It is giving a tough competition to the families. Many people who already work long hours for little money are now unable to meet basic necessities to survive.

Fakhri Bitter fled the war-torn Homs to Idlib eight years ago, and the taxi driver is distrustful of the dwindling value of his earnings. “You work for your income, and once you do the lira suddenly goes up,” he tells Al Jazeera. “Everything you do is spent almost entirely on rent.”

Bitter says they have had to cut costs on basic items like milk and diapers for their three children. “Diaper prices have doubled, and so we bought poor quality diapers that irritate my babies’ skin,” he says.

Going forward, Syrians in Idlib are more anxious than ever for winter this year.

Next door Turkish lira crisis and skyrocketing inflation make life difficult in Idlib [Ali Haj Suleiman/Al Jazeera]

Residents told Al Jazeera that aid for the winter had dropped significantly, and the Turkish lira crisis could be a decisive blow.

Barakat is unable to buy fuel for heating this winter. His income alone is not enough for other expenses, now he is out of reach.

“We sold my wife’s engagement ring to pay for this month,” he says, anxiously rearranging his produce. “So we couldn’t buy anything for the winter because fuel is too expensive.”

But he says his burdens are far less heavy than those of others.

“I don’t have kids, thank goodness,” he says with a laugh.

But Beitar says he fears for his children’s health as his family anticipates a cold winter.

“We haven’t even thought of installing a heater yet,” says the taxi driver. “My kids are already getting sick because of the cold weather, and I can’t afford to get them treated properly “

Karim Chehab reported from Beirut, Lebanon. Ali Haj Suleiman reported from Idlib, Syria

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