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Citing drastic population loss, UN report urges Russia to adapt

Associated Press / October 5, 2009

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MOSCOW - Russia’s population has fallen by 6.6 million since 1993, despite the influx of millions of immigrants, a United Nations report said today, and by 2025 the country could lose an additional 11 million people.

The result could be labor shortages, an aging population, and slower economic growth, the UN said.

Recent Kremlin efforts to reward women for having more babies have caused a surge in the birth rate, the report said, but that will not make much difference in the long term.

It urged Russia to reduce its high mortality rate - similar to that in parts of sub-Saharan Africa - through changing its public health system and by encouraging lifestyle changes - especially a reduction in alcohol consumption.

The United Nations Development Program report, titled “Russia Facing Demographic Challenges,’’ predicted that Russia will be forced to adapt to a smaller population and work force.

Population levels in many developed countries have stagnated and are expected to fall by 2025, but Russia’s population, currently around 142 million, has been in retreat since 1992. Russia’s mortality rate is among the highest in the developed world, with average life expectancy for males at barely 60 years.

For reasons that are not fully understood, Russians suffer very high levels of cardiovascular disease. But most specialists blame the country’s overall high death rate on one factor, alcohol. It has been linked to everything from liver disease to Russia’s high number of murders, suicides, and fatal accidents.

According to a 2007 UN report, what is now the Russian Federation had the world’s fourth-largest population in 1950.

By 2007, the report said, Russia ranked ninth globally, behind Bangladesh and Nigeria. By 2050, the UN estimates, Russia will rank 15th, with a population smaller than that of Vietnam.

An influx of immigrants over the past 16 years has helped soften the impact of Russians dying young and having fewer children.

But the report says that many of these immigrants were ethnic Russians returning to their homeland from other former Soviet states, and that this is mostly over.