Turkey plays an important role geopolitically, and its most important city, Istanbul, bears the majority of that burden. The government in the only city that spans two continents is currently going through significant changes. Addressing poverty in Istanbul is now at the top of the to-do list. Below are 10 facts about poverty in Istanbul that will illuminate some of the issues that plague the region and megacities across the world, and will provide some insight into the best ways of tackling them.
Facts About Poverty in Istanbul
- The number of people living below the poverty line in Istanbul has never been smaller. Over the past 10 years, the share of the population living on less than $4 a day has fallen from more than 20 million to just 1.7 million.
- The expanding difference between the rich and poor is a global issue and is one of the most commonly referenced facts about poverty in Istanbul. The Ministry of Development released data indicating that while the wealthiest 20 percent used to make 9.59 times what the poorest 20 percent did, that number has fallen to 7.96. This shows that poverty in Istanbul is being addressed by the shrinking the number of impoverished people and by closing the gap between the rich and poor.
- The lack of urban planning has perpetuated the realities of many facts about poverty in Istanbul. Much of Istanbul’s impoverished population resides in shanty towns, or gecekondu. More than 70 percent of the city’s housing has been built in the past 30 years. Over the same period, the population more than doubled. This has created problems with development as the government razes these properties to give way to larger projects, causing many forced evictions of the city’s most vulnerable populations.
- While poverty in Istanbul is a major concern, the city is doing much better than the rest of the country. This is problematic for the nation as a whole, as Istanbul residents on average make almost three times more than citizens in the more impoverished southeastern region.
- A significant cause for concern illustrated by these facts about poverty in Istanbul are the more than 500,000 Syrian refugees that call Istanbul home. To help reduce poverty among the refugees, Turkey has allowed them to live and work where they please, rather than being subjected to the often brutal conditions of refugee camps. Syrians can move freely throughout the city, and municipal governments have built schools that follow a Syrian curriculum, soup kitchens and even Beyaz Masalar, which are community centers that provide a venue for the Syrians to voice their needs and concerns.
- All is not great for children in Istanbul, however. More than 40,000 children are forced to work on the streets, many of whom are migrant children.
- Turkey’s football clubs are helping. Partnered with the UNDP, one of Turkey’s most famous football clubs, Galatasaray, pledged to raise funds for programs that fight poverty, inequality and exclusion.
- The country is tackling illiteracy as a way to bridge the gap. Literacy has been an important issue in Turkey since its modern inception in 1928. Nationwide. more than 3.8 million Turks cannot read or write. To address this issue, the organization ACEV started in Istanbul with three principles: “ (1) Equal opportunity in education for all; (2) Learning is a lifelong process that must begin in early childhood; (3) The child, as well as his or her immediate caregivers, must be educated and supported.” More than 125,000 people have learned to read with the assistance of this program.
- The government sponsors women’s literacy programs to address gender inequality. Access to education for women has long been an issue for Turkey. According to UNESCO, 9.7 percent of women could not read in 2014, compared to just 2.1 percent of men. As a result, President Erdogan and his wife Emine launched a female literacy campaign with the hopes of giving women greater access to the professional market, as well as providing greater independence throughout their everyday lives.
- When analyzing poverty in Turkey as a whole, poverty in Istanbul serves as a microcosm. Statistics regarding inclusion (or lack thereof) of minorities, women and immigrants mirror the rest of the country. However, the city and its superior economic resources and infrastructure provide a model that other cities can use when they look to address their poverty issues.
The economic situation for Turkey has been improving, but factors like the refugee crisis and urban-rural divide complicate it. Still, despite political tension within its borders, both sides of the aisle are putting a significant focus on the impoverished, citizen or not. Hopefully, countries in similar situations can look to Turkey and its handling of Istanbul as a model for poverty reduction.
– David Jaques