Urumqi Faces Soaring Costs

Hit with high inflation, residents of the Xinjiang capital say they are struggling to stay afloat.
2013-02-01
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A shop sells roasted meat in Urumqi, Jan. 7, 2012.
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Residents of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region’s capital Urumqi say they are barely able to make ends meet due to a ballooning cost of living in the city with the highest inflation rate in all of China.

Urumqi’s 2012 consumer price index (CPI), which measures changes in the price level of consumer goods and services purchased by households, had jumped 3.4 percent in December from the previous year, higher than the CPI for all of China, which rose 2.5 percent for the year in the same month.

Xinjiang’s CPI was even higher at 5.4 percent.

Sources said the rocketing prices of daily goods in Urumqi are now affecting the wallets of all of the city’s inhabitants and that several entrepreneurs have had to shutter their shops because they cannot keep up with the growing costs of doing business.

“Yes, inflation is up,” a Uyghur restaurant owner named Tursun told RFA’s Uyghur Service. “For example, lamb is 50 yuan (U.S. $8) per kilogram (2.2 pounds) at the wholesale market, but if you get it from a regular vendor it costs 53 yuan (U.S. $8.50). Last year it was 43 yuan (U.S. $6.90).”

“Of course it is affecting us very badly. Prices have been raised at many restaurants, but I haven’t increased mine yet,” he said.

“There are some restaurants that have been forced to close their businesses because of the inflation.”

Tursun said that the cost of lamb had risen in Urumqi because it is in high demand across China and is being shipped out of the region to other cities at a high volume. But he said that a growing population in the city and a reduction in the amount of pastureland in the area had also contributed to local demand, further increasing the price.

“In addition to meat,” he said, “rice, flour and other groceries are also getting more expensive.”

“Green peppers are more than 15 yuan (U.S. $2.40) per kilo,” he said, without providing further details.

Salaries inadequate

A young Uyghur woman named Adela, who works in a local restaurant, said what little wage increases she had received had not kept pace with the rising costs.

“I received a salary raise of 300 yuan (U.S. $48) [per year]. I was paid 2,000 yuan (U.S. $321) last year and this year I am making 2,300 yuan (U.S. $369),” Adela said.

“But even with this, I cannot support myself,” she said.

“For 100 yuan (U.S. $16), you cannot buy much and in no time your money is gone. You don’t even know where it went!”

A Chinese resident surnamed Wang, who moved to Urumqi in 2008, said that the average person now needs a salary of about 5,000 yuan (U.S. $802) to live moderately in the city.

“The cost of everything is up now. From food to beverages,” Wang told RFA.

“Of course it affects your life. You need to make 5,000 yuan to live a simple lifestyle, but most people can’t make that much,” he said.

“Things are very bad … A plate of noodles used to cost 5 yuan (U.S. $0.80), but now it’s up to 20 yuan (U.S. $3.21).”

A Uyghur youth named Yasin told RFA that he barely made enough salary to eat.

“I only make 1,000 yuan (U.S. $160) per year, which isn’t even enough to eat, so now I have to live with my sister,” Yasin said.

“In some places, a plate of noodles is as much as 30 yuan (U.S. $4.81)!”

Residents of Xinjiang are no strangers to inflation.

In August 2011, the government earmarked 68 million yuan (U.S. $10.9 million) in temporary subsidies for about 2.3 million low-income residents of the region to help them offset the impact of rising prices after the CPI in Xinjiang rose 6.9 percent year-on-year in July.

Reported by Guliqiekela Keyoumu for RFA’s Uyghur service. Translated by Mamatjan Juma. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.