Turkish poor hard hit by economic crisis

Published May 17th, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

Families living in Turkozu, a shantytown just a few kilometers from downtown Ankara, wake before dawn to queue at the bakery for loaves of bread. They plant beans, sunflowers and onions in dirt patches and skip the bus to walk the distance to work, if they have jobs at all. 


For them, Turkey's financial crisis, which has caused mass unemployment, steep price hikes in staple goods and a currency devaluation of some 40 percent means less food on the table. They postpone weddings and treat their sick children at home. 


"We buy a lot of bread because it fills the stomach and the children aren't as hungry," says Dilber Bilim, 24, who worked in a leather-goods shop before the crisis forced her employer to fire all his workers. "I don't even remember what meat tastes like." 


Dilber lives with her parents in the concrete blockhouse her father built after moving his family to Turkozu 20 years ago. Turkozu's residents aspired to middle-class affluence as the country's economy grew through the 1990s. 


The original homes of hardboard walls and corrugated-tin roofs have been replaced with permanent dwellings since migrants from Anatolian villages began settling in Turkozu in the 1970s. The community has built a mosque, most roads are paved, homes have electricity and running water. 


"Almost every house now has a telephone line," says Dilber's 27-year-old brother Eyup Bilim, "but people can no longer afford to make phone calls". 


The neighborhood is surrounded by groves of poplar trees. Goats and cows graze plots of land next to single-story homes cheerfully painted in bright pastels. Turkozu's pastoral setting seems a long way from the halls of government, where officials on Wednesday hailed as a success the International Monetary Fund's approval of eight billion dollars in loans to rescue Turkey from economic upheaval. 


A public clash between the prime minister and president in February sent interest rates soaring and rattled financial markets. It spelled the end of an IMF-backed accord, dashing many Turks' hopes that recent austerity would pay off, that Turkey would root out the blight of chronic inflation. 


The annual rate of inflation surged to 50 percent in April. "When I go to the store, I never know how much something will cost," says Eyup. "Last week I bought soap for one million lira (90 cents). Yesterday it was 1.5 million lira." 


Eyup, a former contractor, made $600 or more each month laying down carpet but lost his job last November. His used car has been repossessed and he has sold his carpentry tools. He can no longer make payments on his family's health insurance and treats his three-year-old daughter Burcu's bronchitis with homemade remedies. 


Eyup and Dilber's mother works as a cook but has not been paid in two months. Their father Sabri's pension brings in 100 million lira. The elderly couple supports four unemployed children, Eyup's wife and his two daughters, of whom the younger is a week old.  


Sabri is suffering deep depression, Eyup says, ashamed he cannot provide adequately for his family. "He would like Dilber to marry," Eyup says, "but where would we find money for the wedding, to set up a house?" 


Eyup and Dilber scour the newspaper each day for work notices but find fewer and fewer jobs advertised. "I don't know what the solution is. I don't actually believe there is one," Dilber says. "I believed the government was going to beat inflation, and I was patient with the rest of Turkey." ― (Reuters, Ankara) 


© Reuters 2001

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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