Jamil Barakat says it was never easy to sustain a living in Syria’s northwestern Idlib town. But the Turkish lira crisis next door and skyrocketing inflation have made running his small business a nightmare.
“Produce prices change every day, and customers are in disbelief,” Barakat tells Al Jazeera. “And of course you have to take into consideration rent and transportation costs.”
The value of the Turkish lira to the US dollar earlier this week crashed to a record low, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defends sharp interest rate cuts. Over the past year, the Turkish currency lost about 40 percent of its value, and inflation is approaching 20 percent.
Turkey’s fiscal crisis has spilled over into opposition-held Idlib in neighbouring Syria, which adopted the Turkish currency more than a year ago. Some 4.4 million people live in Idlib, about half of them are displaced.
“It’s not only the monetary connection with Turkey but also the trade connection,” Karam Shaar, the research director of Syrian think-tank Operations and Policy Center, tells Al Jazeera. “Bab al-Hawa, the most significant border crossing with Turkey, is effectively controlled by HTS [Hayet Tahrir al-Sham].”
“Everything here is imported,” Barakat says, pointing at all his fruit and vegetables. “Do we have any orchards or groves here?”
Mohammad al-Ahmad is also struggling to keep his bakery in business, with flour and fuel prices skyrocketing – all brought in from Turkey.
“At this rate, it will cost three lira ($0.24) to produce a bundle of bread, but we have no choice but to keep selling it at 2.5,” al-Ahmad says. “We’ll have to work at a loss but how else will people afford it?”
Al-Ahmad says wheat and fuel costs internationally have been increasing, so the Turkish fiscal crisis is an additional burden for him and about a dozen employees. “I mean you can see even in Lebanon they have a wheat and fuel crisis of their own, too.”
Shaar says Syrians in Idlib will struggle to cope with price shocks, especially as its weak economy relies heavily on international aid for subsistence.
“When the Turkish currency depreciates, prices adjust quickly,” he explains. “But because wages are sticky and take longer to adjust, people no longer can afford commodities.”
Many people are borrowing money to buy groceries or asking shop owners such as Farid Mahloul if they could pay them back later.
“Every day is something new, the lira goes up and down and it’s hard to price things properly,” Mahloul tells Al Jazeera. “When customers can’t pay us back on time, we work at a bigger loss because the value of the lira continues to decline.”
Mahloul says he is doing everything he can to keep his small grocery store in Idlib in business. “It’s just so difficult.”
It is hitting families hard. Many who already work long hours for very little money are now unable to secure the basic necessities to survive.
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 lira suddenly goes up,” he tells Al Jazeera. “Everything you worked for is spent almost entirely on rent.”
Bitar says he has had to cut costs on basic goods for his three children, like milk and diapers. “Diapers have doubled in prices, and so we bought the poor quality ones that give my kids skin irritations,” he says.
Going forward, Syrians in Idlib are more anxious than ever for winter this year.
Residents tell Al Jazeera that aid for the winter has significantly declined, and the Turkish lira crisis could be a decisive blow.
Barakat has not been able to buy 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 while anxiously rearranging his produce. “So we haven’t been able to buy anything for the winter because fuel is too expensive.”
But he says his burdens are far less overwhelming than others.
“I don’t have kids, thank God,” he says laughing.
But Bitar says he fears for his children’s health as his family anticipates a frigid winter season.
“We haven’t even thought about getting a heater set up yet,” the taxi driver says. “My kids are already getting sick because of the cold weather, and I can’t afford to get them proper treatment.”
Kareem Chehayeb reported from Beirut, Lebanon. Ali Haj Suleiman reported from Idlib, Syria