"It is the equation of a thousand unknowns": the lack of resources in emptied Spain makes it difficult to repopulate

6,770,888. This is the number of inhabitants of the province –and community– of Madrid, the most populated in the country. Almost 32% of the population of the entire country is concentrated in it, Barcelona and Valencia. In fact, according to the Government Commissioner against the Demographic Challenge, 90% of the population is concentrated in 30% of the country’s surface. The rest is the Spain known as emptied.

As Jaime Izquierdo, commissioner for the Demographic Challenge in Asturias, says, exile was a “punishment” for inmates in ancient times. However, now, many people – mostly young – they are forced to leave their homes behind in search of opportunities in other cities that have more and better resources.

One of these young people is Iago Enríquez, from Ribas del Sil, a small town south of Lugo, which he had to leave to study Aerospace Engineering in Madrid. Now he works in the field of ‘big data’, but he cannot do it from his town, at least not in a comfortable way, since in the 10 MB internet connection available in your locality there are “micro-cuts of the line”. “I was in town for two months and in those two months the technician was unable to solve the problem,” he gives as an example.

Communication and transportation problems

This is one of the obstacles when deciding whether to return or move to a small village in the process of depopulation. The daughter of Jerónimo Cantuche, spokesperson for the Movement in Defense of Public Health in Zamora, is in India, but in the summer she worked from her Zamora town, Gallegos del Pan, a municipality of only 111 inhabitants according to the INE. “With this global market that we have, it doesn’t matter whether you are in Madrid or in Gallegos, and we will have to take advantage of it”, affects Cantuche.

One of the entrances to the Zamora town of Gallegos del Pan / Google Maps

In fact, as Izquierdo, commissioner for the Demographic Challenge in Asturias, indicates, at the moment in which the towns have fiber optics and communication, “The possibilities of generating art from the village will be exactly the same as from New York”. However, the problems are not only found in the field of telecommunications, which, as Iago Enríquez points out, prevent or make it difficult to return to these towns to telework, even in times of pandemic, but also in the field of transportation.

“It is a forgotten area, there is not even a highway and we have to go for a national one that is in very bad condition“, claims the young man. A stumbling block that is increased if the dispersion and isolation of these areas is taken into account, which implies the use of private vehicles in many circumstances due to the lack of public transport alternatives. Also to go to school or hospital.

Lack of educational and health resources

Another characteristic of many rural areas of our country is the need to travel daily to go to the educational center. Even if there is a school or institute in the town of residence, sometimes a course is shared with other students of different levels. “When we began to study there were six grades: from first to sixth grade. When I finished primary school, we were so few students that they put three grades (fourth, fifth and sixth) together in a single class,” says Enríquez.

To this is added the Difficulty finding higher education, such as university, in nearby municipalities. Specifically, when this young man was interested in studying Aerospace Engineering, there was no possibility of doing it in Galicia and it was necessary to go outside the autonomous community.

Trips, trips and more trips by car that you also have to do to get to a health center. If we wanted to go to the hospital closest to Ribas del Sil, we could go to the one in Monforte de Lemos, although this, according to Enríquez, has been left only for “basic services.” If other assistance was needed, it would be necessary to travel “more than an hour” to reach the Lugo hospital.

Something similar happens in Castilla y León, specifically in Zamora, the province that loses the most population in Spain and has a higher average age. Cantuche, spokesman for the Movement in Defense of Public Health in the area, does not understand how it is intended to attract young couples and families “with a health policy against” and with regions “without pediatricians”, such as Fuentesaúco, or with a reduction in the workforce of these medical professionals, as seen in Benavente or Toro, the two municipalities with the most population in the province after the capital.

“People will continue to live in the villages and there will be no doctors to treat them”, protests Cantuche. According to this nurse, despite the scarcity of population in some of these areas, the logical thing is that “as long as there are people living in the towns, especially the very old, they will have decent and quality health care.”

“The equation of a thousand unknowns”

According to Izquierdo, commissioner for the Demographic Challenge in Asturias, this is “the equation of a thousand unknowns” and to clear them there are no “quick fixes”. In fact, as María Jesús Rivera, a sociologist at the University of the Basque Country, points out, it is not a problem that will be solved in the short term or in a way that is not “transversal”.

“Our daily life in rural areas is not based only on having a part of life covered, but on having all areas of life covered,” explains Rivera, while underlining the need to retain the foreign population, which could be a main element of this “revitalization” of rural areas.

According to Cantuche, although the situation is “critical”, it is not too late to establish “a country model” that generates a symbiosis between rural and urban and that from there it is the people who decide whether to settle in one place or another “regardless of their activity or the development of life” that they want.

It will take time, but it will come, according to Izquierdo, who is hopeful. Meanwhile, he says, it is necessary to “generate the best possible conditions for the life of those who are now” at the same time that “the ideal conditions for the life of the future” are being created. At the end of the day, as Enríquez points out, to return you need “very little”: “The rest already has it the rural one”.

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