Tens of millions of children threatened in eastern Europe

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Tens of millions of children threatened in eastern Europe, report says

By IAN PHILLIPS The Associated Press 10/11/00 5:44 PM

LONDON (AP) -- At least 50 million children in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union live in poverty and are exposed to levels of tuberculosis usually associated with the Third World, a new report says.

The report, released Wednesday by the European Children's Trust, a non-governmental organization active in 10 eastern European countries, urged the West to help by easing the region's debt burden.

Titled "The Silent Crisis," the report said poverty in the region has increased more than tenfold over the last decade due to reductions in government spending on health, education and social programs.

"Since the breakup of the communist system, conditions have become much worse -- in some cases catastrophically so," the report said. "In view of the extent of the economic collapse ... the term 'transition' seems a euphemism. 'Great Depression' might be a more appropriate term."

"For all its many faults, the old system provided most people with a reasonable standard of living and a certain security," the report said.

At least 50 million children in the region are living in "genuine poverty," 40 million of them in the former Soviet Union, the report said. Overall, over 160 million -- or 40 percent -- of the region's population are thought to live in poverty.

As indicators of poverty, the report measured infant mortality, the proportion of the population not expected to live to age 60 and the number of tuberculosis cases.

It said the region's infant mortality -- 26 per 1,000 births in 1998 -- is approaching rates in Latin America and the Caribbean, where infant mortality is 32 per 1,000. In the United States, infant mortality is 7.2 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Nearly a quarter of the region's population are not expected to reach the age of 60. That compared to 25.2 percent in Arab states and an average of 28 percent in developing countries. Russia was on a par with India, with nearly 30 percent not expected to reach 60.

Rates of tuberculosis -- a powerful measure of social deprivation -- were also much higher in eastern Europe, with an average 67.6 cases per 1,000 people in 1997. That compared to 49.6 in Arab states, 47.6 in Latin America and 35.1 in east Asia. For developing countries, the rate was 68.6.

Tuberculosis rates ranged from about 20 per 1,000 in the Czech Republic and Slovenia, to 80 per 1,000 in Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Latvia and Russia, and 150 per 1,000 in Georgia.

The Trust said maternity and child benefits, unemployment pay and pensions, free education and health care, affordable public transport and housing have all disappeared as gross domestic product and public expenditure have plummeted in eastern Europe.

The proportion of the population living below the poverty line was worst -- at 88 percent -- in Kyrgyzstan.

Poverty figures ranged from less than 1 percent in Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, to 4 percent in Hungary, 20 percent in Poland, 50 percent in Russia to more than 60 percent in Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Moldova, the report said, citing data from the U.N. Development Program.

The West, the report argued, could help by easing the region's debt burden, which it said amounted to almost half its GDP.

It also called for expanding services that prevent family breakdown, developing a targeted family support system and improving standards of local management.

Aid should be focused on training, it said, rather than on short-term relief.

"Time is running out," the Trust said. "That there has not been a total collapse of social structures in these countries so far is a testament to the resilience of the people there. But they cannot continue living this way indefinitely."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 11, 2000

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