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Turkmenistan To Reportedly Cut Access To Subsidized Food As Woes Deepen

People wait in line for subsidized food at a state grocery in the Lebap region.
People wait in line for subsidized food at a state grocery in the Lebap region.

ASHGABAT -- Turkmen families who have relatives working abroad may have their subsidized food rations cut from next year as the country struggles with an acute shortage of foodstuffs and a spike in inflation.

Employees at several state stores selling subsidized food in the eastern region of Lebap and sources close to such stores told RFE/RL on November 19 that they had also been instructed by local authorities in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic to halt the sales of subsidized food to the families of people serving time in penitentiaries and to stateless persons residing in the country.

They added that families with a member serving in the armed forces and war veterans will be given priority for subsidized foodstuffs. In addition, families who are indebted to local utilities will be denied the right to buy food in the subsidized stores.

According to the stores' employees and sources, the instructions were given during a session of the local trade directorate on November 18.

Neither local government officials in Lebap nor the minister of trade and economic ties were available for immediate comment on the report.

Individuals working at subsidized food stores confirmed to RFE/RL that they had to cut the rations because supplies to the stores had been reduced.

Despite being home to the world's fourth-largest proven natural-gas reserves, corruption and chronic mismanagement of resources have led the country into an economic tailspin.

The situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which the Turkmen government officially denies.

RFE/RL correspondents reported on November 18 that authorities in the Keshi district in Ashgabat, the capital, announced that they were changing the allocation of subsidized food rations for 10 days, limiting the deliveries to one per dwelling instead of basing them on the number of families living in a residence.

Most private homes in the district house three or more generations, with residents living with their elderly parents and the families of their grown-up children and grandchildren.

Residents have complained that the subsidized food rations for 10 days include only 1 liter of sunflower or cottonseed oil, 1 kilogram of sugar, two chicken legs, and up to 15 eggs. This, they say, is barely enough for some extended families for two days, let along for five times that.

In another district in the capital, Parakhat-7, sunflower and cottonseed oil was taken off of the list of subsidized food from November 1.

Government critics and human rights groups say President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov.

Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on providing people with subsidized goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.

The country has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who rely on subsidized food as prices at state grocery stores rise.

According to Human Rights Watch, Berdymukhammedov, "his relatives, and their associates control all aspects of public life, and the authorities encroach on private life."

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