Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

DEBATE

Iraq's Christians - Nowhere to Run? (part 2)

Read more

DEBATE

Iraq's Christians - Nowhere to Run?

Read more

MEDIAWATCH

Towards a "Third Intifada"?

Read more

FOCUS

What solutions for California's overcrowded prisons?

Read more

MIDDLE EAST MATTERS

Gaza conflict: Palestinians mark sombre Eid

Read more

WEB NEWS

Celebrities in the Israel-Gaza crossfire

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Israeli strike takes out Gaza power station

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

French newspaper apologises for Sarkozy story

Read more

BUSINESS DAILY

Last-ditch talks aim to avert Argentina default

Read more

  • Deadly strike hits Gaza market despite four-hour 'truce'

    Read more

  • Russia defiant as US, EU unveil 'phase three' sanctions

    Read more

  • Argentina fails to reach deal with holdout creditors

    Read more

  • US House votes to sue Obama for over-reaching his powers

    Read more

  • Suspect in Jewish Museum attack charged with 'terrorist' murder

    Read more

  • Women should not laugh in public, Turkey's deputy PM says

    Read more

  • Fourth female suicide bomber targets Nigerian city

    Read more

  • US rebounds to 4% growth in second quarter

    Read more

  • Video: Coping with rocket attacks in Israel’s Sderot

    Read more

  • Rats on the rampage at Louvre museum gardens

    Read more

  • France evacuates nationals, closes embassy in Libya

    Read more

  • 'Compelling' signs Kosovo leaders trafficked organs, prosecutor says

    Read more

  • Graphic: Ebola spreads across West Africa

    Read more

  • Video: How tourism is helping Rwanda’s gorillas, ex-poachers

    Read more

  • Islamists seize key Benghazi army base as fire rages on

    Read more

Europe

Latvia struggles with 'demographic disaster'

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-05-22

Latvian authorities hope to boost the country’s birth rate and coax back the skilled diaspora, in a bid to turn around the country’s population decline, which has shrunk by 13 percent in little more than a decade.

AFP - A running joke in Latvia pokes fun at the exodus of young talent from the ex-Soviet Baltic state, but experts insist it is no laughing matter as the tiny EU newcomer struggles with "demographic disaster".

"We have a joke that in 2030 the last Latvian can switch off the lights at Riga airport," Aldis Austers, chairman of the European Latvians' Association, told AFP recently.

The figures are daunting. A 2011 survey revealed the Latvian population shrank from 2.2 million in 2000 to just 2.0 million as of last year -- plunging 13.0 percent in little more than a decade.

Worse still, if nothing is done to tackle the exodus, the population could drop to 1.6 million by 2030, according to a recent economy ministry study.

Migration studies by University of Latvia Professor Mihails Hazans show the country is becoming demographically top-heavy.

"Most emigrants are young -- about 80 percent of recent emigrants are under 35 -- hence the remaining population is ageing faster," said Hazans, whose studies have referred to the trend as a "demographic disaster".

"Do we have some hope that they will come back? Unfortunately not very much. After three years the number who are planning to come back in the short run drops from ten to three percent."

Britain and Ireland became popular destinations following Latvia's accession to the European Union in 2004.

The exodus peaked after the country was hit by 20 percent joblessness as it suffered the world's deepest recession when its economy shrank by 25 percent over two years during the 2008-2009 global crisis.

Inna Steinbuka, the European Commission's representative in Latvia and a former employee of EU statistics body Eurostat, is convinced Latvia's brain drain is "no longer a risk, it is a reality."

The country's Economy Minister Daniels Pavluts is also worried.

"In 2020 we are facing a 15-percent decrease in the working-age population and a 10-percent increase in economic demand," he told AFP.

Pavluts terms stopping emigration a "priority" and says trying to draw back the diaspora is a "second stage". Attracting skilled labour from abroad should be "a labour supply of last resort," he says.

Initial suggestions by a special task force on demography set up by centrist Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis are aimed at boosting the birth rate and coaxing scientists to come home.

Improving access to kindergartens and reviving fertility programme funding that was slashed during the crisis top the task force's list of priorities.

Dombrovskis has also floated the idea of using EU funds to give expatriate scientists good reasons to return.

"I see that as an issue of the brain drain," Dombrovskis told AFP, pointing to the current dearth of funding for high-tech research.

"But the main reason behind emigration is the economic situation: lack of jobs, and lack of well-paid jobs. That's what we need to concentrate on if we need to deal fundamentally with emigration."

The mass exodus is also tearing Latvian families apart like never before, and children are suffering the most.

When parents leave to work abroad, their children are often left behind and the strain placed on them is damaging, says Dace Beinare, a care adviser with the SOS Children's Villages charity caring for youngsters who have lost their parents.

"Many children are left with grandparents and are effectively abandoned. This is actually a form of violence. They are forced to be more responsible than they are capable of being at that age," she told AFP.

"Emotional problems will eventually become problems for society as a whole: health problems, mental health problems, an inability to adapt to society, and lack of self-confidence and skills."

Date created : 2012-05-22

  • LATVIA

    Latvians say 'no' to Russian as second language

    Read more

  • LATVIA

    Voters choose centre-right coalition over pro-Russia leftists

    Read more

  • LATVIA

    Latvians vote in crucial general election

    Read more

COMMENT(S)