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Cablegate: A Glimpse of Urban Poverty in Turkey

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

030658Z Nov 04





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (Sbu) Summary: With the USG about to disburse $9 million
to supplement a social welfare project providing cash
payments to poor mothers who keep their children in school,
and with $6 million in the pipeline from the Department of
Labor with similar objectives to combat child labor, econoffs
met with the sub-governor of Ankara,s poorest municipality
and visited a primary school and a girl,s vocational high
school. The primary school in particular provided a snapshot
of the social challenge of urban poverty in Turkey. It is
run-down, understaffed, overcrowded and surrounded by
dilapidated housing. Sub-Governor, principals, teachers and
parents were unanimous in valuing the impact of the project
the U.S. will help fund; they only wish the benefits could be
rolled out more quickly to all eligible families. End

2. (Sbu) USAID/Washington is working with the World Bank to
finalize a grant of $9 million in ESF funds to support the
Turkish Social Solidarity Fund,s Conditional Cash Transfer
(CCT) project. (The Social Solidarity Fund is Turkey's
social welfare agency.) This project, also supported by a
$277.7 million loan from the World Bank, targets the poorest
6 percent of Turkish families by providing cash payments to
parents (usually mothers) if they keep their children in
school. Note: As a grant, the U.S. contribution will go
directly to beneficiaries and will not contribute to Turkey's
public debt burden. End Note. Another component of the
project will make payments to poor parents who get their
infants vaccinated, and a third component, just getting
underway, is to make payments to mothers who follow a
schedule of neo-natal check-ups. Though it took some time
to set up the elaborate system of nationwide application,
monitoring and payments, the project has been rapidly
expanding in 2004 with 866,467 beneficiaries as of September,
2004: 590,575 from the education component and 275,892 from
the health component. For each girl attending high school,
a qualifying family receives the equivalent of $23 per month,
with lesser amounts for boys, and for primary school

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Altindag Municipality:

3. (Sbu) Econoffs recently visited Altindag Municipality, the
poorest of the seven municipalities in Ankara, in order to
get a sense of the project,s impact in poor neighborhoods.
Qualification for the project depends on families meeting a
set of poverty criteria, such as number of children and
elderly in the household, family members, employment status,
condition of housing. Not surprisingly, the heaviest users
of the project are the poor sections of big cities, including
Ankara and Istanbul, as well as cities like Gaziantep, Van
and Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey. In fact, the most recent
data shows 122,084 families are eligible in Southeastern
Anatolia alone, versus 208,102 families in all other regions
combined. Social Solidarity Fund officials told us they are
not targeting any particular region, but the much larger
numbers of poor people in the Southeast have resulted in much
larger numbers of qualifying beneficiaries under the
project,s poverty criteria.

4. (Sbu) Econoffs met first with Altindag Sub-Governor
(Kaymakam) Mustafa Altintas, who provided an overview of his
municipality, particularly its social needs. Altindag covers
a large area in central Ankara, including the old city with
its bustling commercial activity, Roman ruins and early
republican-era buildings. According to municipal statistics
some 80% of Altindag,s population is housed in &gecekondu8
dwellings, sloppily-constructed houses whose owners often
lack title for the property on which they are located. The
2000 census put Altindag,s population at 400,000, though the
Sub-Governor stressed that during the daytime the population
probably exceeds one million people because so many people
work in the district and live elsewhere.

5. (Sbu) In addition to the CCT project, the Sub-Governor
said the municipality provides food packages to about three
thousand poor families. About fourteen thousand families
receive coal for home heating. (The prevalence of soft coal
for home heating, long a major cause of air pollution in
Ankara, causes a layer of black smog to be visible over the
valley in which Altindag lies.) According to the
Sub-Governor, social problems such as criminality,
prostitution, drug use and alcoholism are rife among
Altindag,s poor, a comment reiterated by parents and
teachers and the primary school we visited. When asked
whether Turkey,s economic recovery is beginning to be felt
in Altindag, the Sub-Governor said he had yet to see signs of
this, though he admitted Altindag,s situation might not be
representative. He pointed out that, unlike other sections
of Ankara, Altindag has little industry, except for one
furniture-making district. Anecdotally, he was aware of
cases in which applicants for social welfare assistance say
that they used to have businesses but were bankrupted in the
2001 crisis.

Project,s Popularity Leads to Processing Backlogs:
--------------------------------------------- ---------

6. (Sbu) The Sub-Governor seemed genuinely enthusiastic about
the project, viewing it as an important pillar of his
municipality,s efforts to help its poorest citizens. Some
5,500 families have applied for the CCT project assistance in
Altindag. So far only 2,250 have qualified but this number is
likely to increase once the Social Solidarity Fund works
through a backlog of unprocessed applications. Indeed,
everyone we met*from the Social Solidarity Fund officials
who manage the project to the Sub-Governor to the school
principals to parents*were unanimous that the CCT project,s
biggest problem is working through this backlog. The
project,s nationwide statistics also show large disparities
between the number of applicants and the number of
beneficiaries, which the Social Solidarity Fund attributes to
the processing backlogs. The project is a victim of its own
success: as its publicity campaign took off*the project,s
posters were prominently displayed at the municipal
building*poor families couldn,t get onto its rolls fast
enough. The Sub-Governor told us the municipality has begun
having night shifts for the clerical workers who input the
data to the handful of computers the municipality has for
this purpose. He brought us to the cramped office where
university students, employed for this purpose, were
receiving applicants and processing applications.

7. (Sbu) Yadigar Gokalp, the US-educated director of the
Social Solidarity Fund who accompanied us, is so keen to find
ways to process applications faster that she asked the
principal of the vocational school we visited if they could
work out an arrangement for the students to input application
data on the school,s computers, both to earn money and as a
computer-training project. The World Bank official
responsible for CCT told econoff the backlog problem is
likely to taper off as the processors work through the
initial flood of applicants. Moreover, the labor-intensive
monitoring process, whereby the local charitable foundation
staff go to the homes of applicants, will transition to
sampling, rather than 100 percent monitoring. He said the
project has found only minimal application fraud,
particularly in rural areas, which would justify a lower
percentage sampling in the countryside than in cities.

Yenidogan Primary School:
8. (Sbu) The highlight of the afternoon was the visit to
Yenidogan primary school, where econoffs were literally
mobbed by hundreds of students in the small, paved courtyard
of the school*the only play area. The building was rundown
and overcrowded. The school is one of 76 primary schools in
the municipality that have a total enrollment of 61,101
pupils, taught by 2,428 teachers. Whereas at the primary
school level the gender breakdown is 51-49 (boy-girl), at the
high school level the proportion of girl pupils falls to less
than 46 percent. One of the key goals of the project is to
increase continuation rates for girls by making higher cash
payments to families whose girls stay in school, with the
highest payments reserved for families with high school-level
girl students.

9. (Sbu) The principal of the primary school told us there
were only thirteen classrooms and forty-eight teachers for a
school with 1700 pupils. He said there are often over fifty
children in a classroom. The Social Solidarity Fund
officials told us that the families of most of the students
at the school*1600 out of 1700*had applied for the CCT
benefits. The principal, teachers and parents from the
parents, association, all provided anecdotes about how the
project helped local poor families. They said there were
many examples of kids staying in school because of the
payments. Asked whether the payments helped women, since the
payments go to the mothers unless there is no mother in the
household, the parents were confident that they helped poor
mothers feel more financially secure and less dependent on
their husbands for money. One teacher said he could see the
difference: kids are more likely to get clothes and shoes and
parents are paying off debts.

10. (Sbu) The evident poverty of the neighborhood and
decrepitude of the school may be why the Sub-Governor
particularly wanted us to see it (and other Altindag
elementary schools may not be as bad*we saw one from the
outside that looked in much better condition). Social
Solidarity Fund officials told us that school staff*not
janitors*had to clean the school due to lack of funds.
Gokalp told us that in addition to the processing backlog
problem, the biggest problem she runs into is schools crying
out for funding for improved facilities, more teachers, etc.
Of course, these are outside the scope of the project.
Girls Vocational School Looked Better:
11. (Sbu) After the primary school, econoffs visited Yildirim
Beyazit Girls, Vocational high school. Compared to the
primary school, this school seemed in far better shape,
though certainly far from being modern or well-equipped. We
spoke with two girls whose families are recipients of CCT
funds, one of whose father is a market-seller and the other
who is fatherless. Both came from large families: one had 5
siblings and the other 6. At the primary school, though the
parents on the parents, committee all had only 2 or 3
children, they said many of the other families had 5 or 6
kids. Note: Turkey,s population growth and fertility rates
have fallen dramatically over the past generation. According
to a Turkish population expert who has consulted for USAID,
over the past decade the population growth rate has fallen
from 2.8% to 1.5% and the fertility rate from 3.5% to 2.3%.
Not surprisingly, birth rates are higher in poor
neighborhoods like Altindag. End Note.
12. (Sbu) The girls school had a small library (though the
books looked old), and two rooms for computer training (the
computers also looked old). The students were in the midst
of an election campaign for student government, and the walls
were plastered with posters bearing campaign slogans.


13. (Sbu) Though the World Bank and IMF have endeavored to
preserve social sector spending in a context of fiscal
austerity, clearly Turkey,s schools have suffered from
population growth surpassing budget growth. What we saw in
Altindag, if it is representative, suggests that the CCT
project is playing a useful role in helping Turkey,s
poorest, and empowering women and girls. The $9 million U.S.
grant advances U.S. objectives in Turkey, by providing direct
assistance to the poorest people in the country. Post intends
to publicize the U.S. role as much as possible, to help
counter many ordinary Turks' perception of the U.S. as
focused on the geostrategic dimension of bilateral ties or
linked to IMF-mandated austerity. At the same time, our
visit to Altindag served as a reminder of the significant
development challenges Turkey faces, even in a district only
a few miles from Parliament, the very district in which the
republic was founded.


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