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Tuesday, 24 October, 2000, 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK
Russian population in steep decline
Population graph
Russia's population fell by more than half a million, or 0.3%, in the first eight months of the year, new statistics show.

Figures from the State Statistics Committee predict a further population decline of 11 million, to about 134 million, in the world's largest country by 2015.

"It's altogether a pretty terrible situation," said Moscow-based journalist Oleg Glebov.

Population problems
Russian fertility rate: 1.17
Replacement fertility rate: 2.5
Percentage of Russian couples who are infertile: 15
Percentage of Russian women who have serious medical problems during pregnancy: 75
Russian male life expectancy, in years: 59
Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to agree. He put population decline at the top of a list of urgent problems facing Russia in his first state of the union address, in July.

And the problem may be getting worse.

The net loss of 507,400 people in the eight months to 1 September is greater than in all of 1999.

Causes of decline

Drug use, alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are leading reasons for the decline, said Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson Center.

"It's mind-boggling, frankly," he said.

About 15% of Russian couples are infertile, he said.
Vladimir Putin
President Putin put population top of Russia's problems

And as many as 75% of women experience serious medical problems during pregnancy.

The official fertility rate - understood as the average number of children a woman has between the ages of 15 and 49 - was 1.17 in 1999.

The minimum rate for a population to replace itself is 2.5, Mr Feshbach said.

Disease takes its toll

STDs are a major cause of concern, he said.

"There's syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, HIV/Aids, prostitution," he said.

He estimates that there are between 450,000 and 500,000 cases of syphilis in Russia, out of a population of 145 million.

"It affects the quality of new-born children," he said.

Where are the fertile women going to come from?

Murray Feshbach, Smithsonian Institution

He said the situation was made worse by 1999 law mandating prison terms for syphilis sufferers who contracted the disease through drug use.

"If you get syphilis through drug abuse you go to jail, so why report it?" he asked.

"There are some optimists there," Mr Feshbach said of Russian demongraphers.

"But I don't know what the basis of their optimism is. Where are the fertile women going to come from?" he asked.

Depression a factor

Journalist Glebov said that there were psychological as well as medical reasons for the country's low birth rate.

"It's the state of the nation", he said.

"Most people are very pessimistic. They don't believe children will have a future", he said.

While there was a slight increase in the birth rate this year as compared to last year, the death rate increased markedly.

The Russian death rate is now 1.7 times higher than the birth rate.

Male life expectancy in Russia is 59 years,considerably lower than it was in the Soviet Union.

For women, it is 72 years.

The 1999 United Nations Human Development Report, which ranks countries according to quality of life, placed Russia 72nd of 174 countries surveyed.

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See also:

03 May 00 | Europe
Big rise in HIV in Russia
22 Apr 00 | Europe
Deadly toll of Chernobyl
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