Russian outpost where 34 is old

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LIFE EXPECTANCY in one of the most impoverished and remote parts of Russia is thought by officials to have fallen to about 40, and has been put as low as34 by one aid organisation.

It is further evidence of ademographic crisis in Russia, where alcoholism, poor diet, illness and dismal living conditions have contributed to apopulation fall of 900,000 in two years, to under 147 million.

The life-expectancy figure of 34, for both men and women,came from Medecins du Monde, which has been gathering information in the sparsely populated region of Chukotka, in the far north-east.

Conditions in the region, much of which lies within the Arctic Circle, have declined in the post-Soviet years, worsened by this summer's economic collapse.

"The whole of Chukotka is in an awful situation," said Victor Beltsov, a member of a 22-strong government emergency commission that has been travelling through the region. "I was in one village where the only food was sugar, salt and cereal. There are no vegetables, no fruit and very little meat."

He said life expectancy in the region was about 40 years.

Yelena Pushkaryova, a member of the parliamentary committee on the north, said she had seen a report stating that life expectancy in Russia's far north is up to 15 years shorter than the rest of the country. As the average life expectancy for a Russian male has been hovering around 59, this suggests that few inhabitants of Chukotka make it into young middle age.

The Red Cross said yesterday that Russia's far north and east faced "unprecedented hardship", which could "threaten the very survival of some indigenous minorities".

It cited alcoholism, a rise in cardiovascular problems and respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, and a sharp drop in the number of doctors.

Tens of thousands were facing winter without adequate heating, clothing or food.