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Russian population dwindling, creating 'Ghost Villages'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 6th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Analysts say that Russia's population will drop from 143 million to 107 million by 2050. Vladimir Putin, reelected to his third term as president has described the decline as "the most acute problem of contemporary Russia." He declared last month that the country faced becoming "a geopolitical void" if the trend was not reversed.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Among Putin's many campaign promises is that families with more than three children will receive housing priorities and a special allowance of about $250 for each child per month. Other benefits would include making it easier for working women to find daycare.

The Russian government has already introduced several programs to encourage women to have more children. The most significant of these has been the "mother's capital" program, which gives mothers having a second or third child a certificate worth about $13,000.

The money can be used for a mortgage, a child's education or the mother's pension fund.

Russia's population has been rapidly dwindling since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The discrepancy in life expectancy between Russian men and women has created a gender imbalance that can be seen most acutely in the country's "ghost villages." Russia has tens of thousands of "ghost villages" with populations of less than 10 people.

Tens of thousands of such villages, whose populations can be counted in handfuls, are dotted across Russia, particularly in the west of the country.

While the exodus of the rural population to cities since the collapse of the Soviet Union has contributed to the trend, the premature deaths of many men has left some villages populated solely by elderly women.

According to Russia's state committee for statistics, Goskomstat, the total population fell from 148.5 million in 1992 to 142 million in 2009. There has been a slight upturn in the last couple of years to 143 million, which the government puts down in part to the "mother's capital" program.

There are many reasons for the dwindling populations, with experts pointing to poor environmental conditions, a lack of health and safety regulations, and deteriorating healthcare and pre-natal care.

Another factor is the country's abortion rate, an average of 54 abortions per 1,000 women which is the highest in the world, according to United Nations figures.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, , pointed out that Russia combined a low birth rate with an unusually high mortality rate for an industrialized country.

"The crux of the problem is shown in the abnormally high death rate for men in the prime of life," Yury Krupnov, director of Moscow's Institute of Demography, Migration, and Regional Development says. "In Russia, the death rate at 35 is seven times higher than that in the European Union."

The average life expectancy for Russian men is 62, according to World Health Organization statistics or at least 15 years less than in most industrialized nations. Life expectancy for women is 74.

The single biggest health factor to blame for this is widespread alcoholism. According to the Lancet, a respected U.K. medical journal, one in five male deaths in Russia is alcohol related.

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