Russian population falls daily

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The Independent Online

Russia's population is falling by 1,000 a day as deaths exceed births by almost two to one. Officials say the main reasons are smoking, drinking, poverty and the collapse of the health service.

Russia's population is falling by 1,000 a day as deaths exceed births by almost two to one. Officials say the main reasons are smoking, drinking, poverty and the collapse of the health service.

Life expectancy for a Russian male in 1999 was 59.9 years, against 72 for women, the Russian Academy of Medical Science said. The decline in life-expectancy over the past decade is unprecedented in an industrial society not affected by war.

Russia's population has fallen to 146 million, with no sign of the trend being reversed, said a report from 66 regions presented by Oleg Shchepin, of the academy. The death rate rose to 14.7 per 1,000, while the birth rate was 8.4 per 1,000.

The number of people with tuberculosis, syphilis, hepatitis B and C, bowel infections and anaemia is rising. Three-quarters of pregnant women have problems because of iron deficiency (a result of malnutrition) and the spread of diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases. Paediatricians say there is an increase in stunting among children because of malnutrition.

The fall in the standard of living of most Russians over the past decade is an underlying cause of the population decline. The cost of health care is also growing, as patients have to pay bribes to get treatment in state hospitals.

Male life expectancy was already falling in the last years of the Soviet Union. It was attributed to high levels of alcoholism, one survey in 1999 revealing that Russians drank three bottles of vodka each a week.

The demographic crisis has long-term consequences as the working-age population falls, reflecting the drop in the fertility rate. In addition to the high death rate and low birth rate, the emigration of well-educated Russians is also reducing the population.

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