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Letter from Europe: Russia’s demographic crisis

Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune
BERLIN: It is a tragedy touching millions. Sixty years after World War II, Russians are dying younger in peacetime than their grandparents did under Stalin. They are having fewer children, and many are falling mortally ill from alcohol-related diseases.

The alarming trends have accelerated since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, despite the unprecedented growth of the Russian economy, which is expected to increase 7 percent this year, fueled by high energy prices. Russians who should be reaping the benefits of such growth are not.

“A terrible demographic crisis is taking place,” said Nikolay Petrov, a specialist on Russian society at the Carnegie Center in Moscow. “Over the next 20 years, Russia will need 20 million immigrants to compensate for the labor shortage. This is the first time in which the population and labor force are declining together. It will have an enormous impact on Russia’s economic and strategic ambitions.”

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has only recently acknowledged part of the problem by promising more money for mothers who have a second child. Petrov said the root causes – cardiovascular diseases caused by alcoholism and smoking – were not being tackled.

Since 1992, Russia’s population has fallen 3 percent, to 143.8 million from 148.7 million. Other countries have experienced sharp declines over the same period – in Bosnia, the war reduced the population by 10 percent, while emigration sapped the populations of Armenia and Kazakhstan. In the case of Russia, domestic and social reasons, not war or emigration, are draining the country of its people.

“The drop in population in Russia is unprecedented among industrialized countries,” said Patricio Marquez, lead health specialist for Europe and Central Asia at the World Bank and one of the authors of a new study, “Dying Too Young in the Russian Federation.” Life expectancy of Russian men is below 60 years, compared with 67 years in 1985 and 63 years in the early 1950s. They are also living 16 years less on average than their male counterparts in Western Europe and 14 years less than Russian women because of their lifestyle.
(6 September 2007)

Russian ‘sex day’ to boost births

The governor of Ulyanovsk region in Russia is offering prizes to couples who have babies in exactly nine months – on Russia’s national day on 12 June.

Sergei Morozov wants couples to take the day off work to have sex. If a baby is born on national day, they will receive cars, TVs or other prizes.

Mr Morozov has declared Wednesday “family contact day” as part of efforts to fight Russia’s demographic crisis. The population has sharply declined since the Soviet Union collapsed.

This is the third year that Ulyanovsk, in central Russia, is offering prizes for babies born on 12 June. This year, a couple won the grand prize of a sports utility vehicle (SUV).

The initiative seems to be paying off, as the region’s birth rate has risen by 4.5% over the last year.

… Demographers estimate that Russia could lose 40 million people – almost a third of its current population – by the middle of the century. A combination of falling birth rates, emigration and an ailing healthcare system has led to the decline.
(X September 2007)
An SUV seems a fitting prize for the luckly couple. -BA

Child Mortality at Record Low; Further Drop Seen

Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York times
For the first time since record keeping began in 1960, the number of deaths of young children around the world has fallen below 10 million a year, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund being released today.

This public health triumph has arisen, Unicef officials said, partly from campaigns against measles, malaria and bottle-feeding, and partly from improvements in the economies of most of the world outside Africa.

The estimated drop, to 9.7 million deaths of children under 5, “is a historic moment,” said Ann M. Veneman, Unicef’s executive director, noting that it shows progress toward the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting the rate of infant mortality in 1990 by two-thirds by 2015. “But there is no room for complacency. Most of these deaths are preventable, and the solutions are tried and tested.”
(13 September 2007)

Sticker Shock

Jessica Stites, Ms Magazine
Birth control prices are skyrocketing- and that’s just one way the current federal administration is making it harder for women to obtain contraception

When Emory University incoming senior Nora Kleinman discovered last winter that the cost of NuvaRing, her preferred method of birth control, had nearly doubled at her campus health center- going from $27 to $44 a month-she was forced to make a quick decision: find a way to come up with an extra $204 a year or switch to her parents’ insurance plan, and thus give up the privacy she had enjoyed at the student health clinic. “Everybody’s fairly irritated about it,” says Kleinman. “Myself and so many other women I know were depending on health services at universities for cheap and affordable contraception.”

Millions of women who purchase contraceptives at student and community health clinics across the country have seen prices go from about $10 a month to anywhere between $30 and $50. Such out-of-reach prices are putting intense financial stress on women who can’t afford to pay retail for birth control. And the pressure goes beyond the individual level: Some family planning clinics serving low-income women may be forced to shut down if prices aren’t soon reduced, leaving poor women with even fewer resources to determine the number and spacing of their children.
(14 September 2007)
Also at Common Dreams.