This Europe: After 27 barren years, a small town in Italy produces a bambino

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The Independent Online

The 45 inhabitants of the mountainous north Italian town of Sommapreda are over the moon: for the first time in 27 years, the town has produced a baby.

The 45 inhabitants of the mountainous north Italian town of Sommapreda are over the moon: for the first time in 27 years, the town has produced a baby.

Like many small Italian towns, Sommapreda, near Brescia, is racked by mass emigration. Babies had become a faint memory for locals. Then Maurizio and Marcella Canossi brought back hope: childhood sweethearts born and raised there, they vowed to stay in the town and raise a family. The little girl was born in December and named Aurora, "Dawn".

"We hope that her arrival can signal a change: renewed hope for life in this town, and the preserving of its traditions," said Mrs Canossi.

In Italy, known only a generation ago for its large families and worship of bambini, the birth rate has been plunging since 1970 to one of the lowest in the world, and it has the largest proportion of citizens over 65. The average number of births per mother has fallen from 2.67 in 1965 to less than 1.2, and the population is expected to drop from 57 million to 41 million by 2050. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says that Italy, with France and Spain, is one of the countries most likely "to suffer fiscal, social and political crises" because of falling birth rates.

Immigrants from south of the Mediterranean are propping up the population, but Italy has no experience in accepting large numbers of foreign people, and already the strain is telling.

If the shrinking number of youth cannot finance their elders' pensions, the old will have to work until they drop – not an attractive choice for a population that has become accustomed to leisure. Unless hard choices are faced, Italy's fate will be that of Sommapreda writ large: one baby in a blue moon, and extinction round the corner.

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