A new survey has named Turkmenistan's capital as the world's most expensive city for international employees, illustrating the stark inequalities in a Central Asian state battered by a long-running economic crisis.
Ashgabat topped a 2021 cost-of-living survey published by the consultancy firm Mercer, followed by Hong Kong, Beirut, and Tokyo.
Jean-Philippe Sarra of Mercer told the AFP news agency that "high local inflation" was behind the cost-of-living rise in the Turkmen city of about 2 million people. In last year's survey, the city ranked second.
At the bottom of the list, the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, was ranked as the least expensive city for foreign employees of the 209 cities surveyed, followed by Lusaka and Tbilisi.
Mercer analyzed data from cities across five continents to compile its annual Cost of Living Survey, measuring the comparative cost of more than 200 items such as housing, transportation, and food.
Most cities included in the top 10 are business hubs where economic growth has led to a sharp rise in the price of housing and other living costs.
Known for its autocratic government, Turkmenistan has been grappling with a long-running economic crisis that has pushed many citizens into poverty, struggling to afford food and other basics.
The former Soviet republic is almost wholly dependent on natural-gas exports to Russia and has struggled to recover from a global slump in energy prices in 2014 that has pushed up inflation and battered the local currency, the manat.
Despite the economic woes, Turkmen authorities started a major expansion of Ashgabat last month, with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov pledging to turn the glitzy capital full of marble buildings into "one of the most prosperous cities in the world."