Jamil Barakat says making a living in the town of Idlib in northwestern Syria has never been easy. But the next Turkish lira crisis and skyrocketing inflation made his small business a nightmare.
“Product prices change every day and customers are incredulous,” Barakat told Al Jazeera. “And of course you have to factor in the rent and the transportation costs. “
The value of the Turkish lira against the US dollar earlier this week hit an all-time high, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defends steep interest rate cuts. During the past year, the Turkish currency lost about 40 percent of its value, and inflation is approaching 20 percent.
Turkey’s budget crisis spilled over into opposition-held Idlib in neighboring Syria, which adopted the Turkish currency more than a year ago. Some 4.4 million people live in Idlib, about half of whom are displaced.
“It is not only the monetary link with Turkey, but also the trade link,” Karam Shaar, research director of 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 here is imported,” says Barakat, pointing to all his fruits and vegetables. “Do we have orchards or groves here? “
Mohammad al-Ahmad is also struggling to keep his bakery going, with prices for flour and fuel skyrocketing, all imported from Turkey.
“At this rate, it will cost three pounds ($ 0.24) to produce a packet of bread, but we have no choice but to keep selling it at 2.5,” al-Ahmad said. “We’ll have to work at a loss, but how can people afford it? “
Al-Ahmad says that the costs of wheat and fuel internationally have increased, so the Turkish fiscal crisis is placing an additional burden on him and around a dozen employees. “I mean, you can see that even in Lebanon there is also a wheat and fuel crisis. “
Shaar says Syrians in Idlib will find it difficult to cope with price shocks, especially since its weak economy depends heavily on international aid for its livelihood.
“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 basic commodities.”
Many people borrow money to do their shopping or ask traders like Farid Mahloul if they can pay them back later.
“Every day is something new, the reading goes up and down and it’s hard to gauge things properly,” Mahloul told Al Jazeera. “When customers can’t pay us back on time, we work with a larger loss as the value of the lira continues to drop. “
Mahloul says he is doing everything he can to keep his small grocery store in Idlib running. “It’s so difficult.”
It hits families hard. Many of those who already work long hours for very little money are now unable to provide the basic necessities for survival.
Fakhri Bitar fled war-torn Homs to Idlib eight years ago, and the taxi driver is in disbelief at the declining value of what he earns. “You end up working for your income, and once you’re done the pound suddenly goes up,” he told Al Jazeera. “Everything you’ve worked for is spent almost entirely on rent. “
Bitar says he has had to cut the costs of basic items for his three children, such as milk and diapers. “The diapers have doubled in price, so we bought poor quality diapers that cause skin irritation for my kids,” he says.
Looking ahead, Syrians in Idlib are more worried than ever about winter this year.
Residents tell Al Jazeera that aid for the winter has declined significantly and that the Turkish lira crisis could be a decisive blow.
Barakat was unable to purchase fuel for heating this winter. His income alone is not enough for other expenses, now more out of reach.
“We sold my wife’s engagement ring to pay for this month,” he says as he anxiously rearranges his products. “So we couldn’t buy anything for the winter because the fuel is too expensive.
But he says his burdens are much less overwhelming than the rest.
“I don’t have children, thank God,” he laughs.
But Bitar says he fears for the health of his children as his family expects a freezing winter.
“We haven’t even thought about installing a heater yet,” says the taxi driver. “My children are already getting sick from the cold and I can’t afford to provide them with proper treatment. “
Kareem Chehayeb reported from Beirut, Lebanon. Ali Haj Suleiman reported from Idlib, Syria