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Central Asia Battered by Currency Turmoil

Market traders throughout Central Asian countries, such as these selling imported shoes and bathing suits in Cholpon Ata on Kyrgyzstan’s lake Issy Kul, are having difficulty selling goods they bought for euros or dollars because domestic currency drops are forcing prices for goods to jump by 30 to 50 percent. In just one month, Kazakhstan’s tenge has lost 50 percent against the dollar, and the Kyrgyz som has lost 30 percent in the past year. (Photo: Dean C.K. Cox)

Authorities in Kazakhstan have burned through $414 million over two days in an effort to halt the slide of the country’s currency, the tenge, which broke the psychologically important barrier of 300 to the dollar on September 16. But the emergency government intervention may be too late for people like Almaty trader Natalya Ovchinnikova, who is nervously looking down the barrel of bankruptcy.
 
“We’re in shock. We don’t know what to do,” said Ovchinnikova, who sells lingerie imported from Poland, the Baltic States, and Turkey from a small store in Almaty’s Nikolskiy Bazaar. “We’re dependent on the euro and the dollar.”
 
The surge of the US dollar against currencies of developing economies across the world has been producing many tales of woe in Central Asia, prompting governments to either surrender to events, or resort to their characteristic authoritarian methods to contain alarm.
 

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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia. Anna Lelik is a Bishkek-based reporter.

Central Asia Battered by Currency Turmoil

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