April 1, 2014


The Numbers Vladimir Putin Doesn't Want You to See (Maureen Orth, 3/31/14, Vanity Fair)

I decided to revisit Russia's numbers. They do not make a pretty picture.

Despite a recent slight uptick in births versus deaths, life expectancy now stands at 64 for males and 76 for women (137th and 100th in the world, respectively). According to the U.N.'s World Health Organization, the life expectancy for a 15-year-old boy in Haiti is three years higher than for a Russian boy the same age. A drop in fertility by 50 percent between 1987 and 1999 has resulted in a reduced number of women now at childbearing age, which is beginning to affect the country in a major way: Two thirds of all births in Russia take place among women between the ages of 20 and 29, and this population will decline from 13 million currently to 7 or 8 million in the coming years.

According to Murray Feshbach, a Georgetown professor emeritus and the dean of Russian demography in the United States, Russia's working-age population is also declining by a million people a year, a faster rate than the decline of the overall population, which in 2013 stood at around 143 million, 3 million less than when Putin took office. Moreover, only 30 percent of Russian babies born are born healthy. Eberstadt told me that many unhealthy Russian babies are "discarded" --sent to government institutions where they often develop cognitive difficulties. Unhealthy children grow up to be unhealthy adults: half of the conscripted Russian army has to be put in limited service because of poor health.

Twenty-five percent of Russian men still die before the age of 55, many from alcoholism and the violent deaths, plus other diseases it fosters. A protégé of Feshbach's, Mark Lawrence Schrad, has recently published a book called Vodka Politics, which analyzes how vodka has been used throughout Russian history, from tsars to dictators, as a means of social control. Cheap vodka and cigarettes were among the first free-market products available after Communism. When a partial government crackdown regulating sales of alcohol in 2009 occurred and vodka's price went up, some hard-core alcoholics simply switched to perfume or antifreeze. The government also jacked up prices on beer, often imported or owned by foreigners, and further drove the population to harder stuff. Schrad, a political scientist at Villanova, has also written that 77 percent of kids between the ages of 15 and 17 drink vodka regularly; in rural areas, the percentage can be as high as 90.

Russia, meanwhile, has more heroin addicts than any other country. To become truly grossed out, one only has to go to the Web to see the damage of krokodil, a homemade opiate that heroin addicts in Russia shoot that rots their skin and organs from within. A thriving needle culture inevitably means H.I.V., and between 2000 and 2012 the number of new cases of H.I.V. increased six fold. Many of those infected also suffer from tuberculosis. Russia is second only to India (with 1.3 billion people) in the number of cases of M.D.R. (multidrug-resistant) tuberculosis

When it comes to the environment, I found that 50 percent of Russia's water is not potable.

Posted by at April 1, 2014 5:04 AM

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