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Bread Lines Grow in Turkey as Inflation Rises

Turkey inflation
A passerby in Istanbul captured a video of a bread line stretching around the block. Credit: Ibrahim Ozkan/Twitter

Bread lines spanned blocks in Istanbul, Turkey on Monday as inflation rises.

Scores of Istanbulites have turned to the city’s subsidized bread program, Istanbul Halk Ekmek (which translates to “Public Bread”), in order to save money as the Turkish lira rapidly loses value.

The Istanbul Halk Ekmek has an 8.8 oz baguette available for 1.25 Turkish liras ($0.09) which is currently half the starting price for bread at local bakeries.

Although the difference may seem negligible, the savings have become crucial for many Istanbulites who have been lining up at the roughly 1,500 bread kiosks throughout the city daily.

71-year-old retiree Niazi Toprak, who was waiting in line for the next batch of bread, told Al Jazeera that “Everything is getting expensive, from your food to your bread, from your shirt down to the socks you wear.”

Toprak is a retired truck driver and produce wholesaler who stopped working five years ago. Toprak has had to move in with his children recently in order to save money:

“My retirement social security only brings in 800 liras ($56) a month, so that’s not enough these days to live alone on,” Toprak said. “We are four people in the house, and our rent is 2,000 liras ($140 a month). Each of us eats at least one loaf a day, so I plan on buying four loaves from here. You need to save every bit of money you can these days.”

Bread lines grow in Turkey as inflation soars

The Turkish lira lost nearly half its value against the United States dollar in 2021. Turkey’s inflation rate also climbed by 21.3%, although many commentators believe that even that figure is conservative and that the inflation rate may actually be much higher.

“Bread is an essential item in Turkish cuisine, and it’s frequently consumed especially if you are a poor family,” said Berk Esen, an IPC-Stiftung Mercator fellow at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies and an assistant professor at Sabancı University. “For a family of five or six people for instance, where parents and children and elderly live together, maybe at least two pieces of bread are eaten every day. So even if the Halk Ekmek bread is just a few liras cheaper, over a month that adds up to a substantial amount for a low-income family, and the price gap between that bread and what is in the markets is only going to widen as inflation goes up.”

Ozgen Nama, vice head of the city’s Halk Ekmek program, told Al Jazeera that the need for the public bread program has shot up across all of Istanbul, but the most demand is seen in working-class areas on the outskirts of the city.

“We have doubled production [in the last two years] and there are still lines, and this only shows that people don’t have purchasing power, and that they are becoming poorer,” Nama said. “It’s a clear indication people are becoming poorer in this country.”

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