Russia's alcohol problem is nothing new. But a report from the World Health Organization is depicting it in the starkest terms yet: it's causing a demographic timebomb. Richard Weitz at World Politics Review highlights the most disturbing figures from the report:
- Russians 16 and older drink the equivalent of roughly four gallons of pure alcohol per capita each year, almost twice the amount of their American counterparts.
- Russia currently has 2 million alcoholics.
- The number of Russian children aged 10-14 who drink alcohol exceeds 10 million.
- Roughly 500,000 Russians die annually from alcoholic-related accidents, crimes, and illnesses.
- Alcohol poisoning kills more than 23,000 Russians each year.
According to Weitz, 20 percent of Russian male deaths are attributed to alcoholism. A 15-year-old boy has a 40 percent chance of dying before the age of 60. Despite recent economic gains, the Russian population continues to shrink. Russian leadership, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, now considers alcoholism a national security threat and have set a goal to halve the country's alcohol consumption by 2020.
Still, that won't be easy, notes Weitz. It was only last month that the Russian legislator redefined beer as an alcoholic drink. Prior to that, its food item status allowed it to be sold widely in stores and kiosks--a factor that increased beer consumption 51-fold between 1995 and 2007. In a closing note, Weitz says the problem has become so pervasive, it even threatens Russia's ability to maintain a standing army:
The Russian armed forces face a massive personnel problem, and the country's demographic trends will reduce the availability of potential male recruits even further in coming years. By 2016, the number of men available for conscription will be half that of 1996, a problem exacerbated by the fact that many potential recruits are unfit for service due to alcohol-related complications.