While world attention is on the former Soviet Union's economic woes, Georgetown University demographer Murray Feshbach points to a more intractable problem: its health and environmental crises. Writing in The American Enterprise, Feshbach offers stark statistics of disasters whose dimensions are "only beginning to be known."
Consider: While male life expectancy in the U.S. has risen by five years, to 72, since the mid-1960s, in the former Soviet Union it has fallen by four years, to 62. Infant mortality is rising, and 60% of infants have health problems. One-quarter of children under 5 develop anemia or rickets. As a result of radioactivity released at Chernobyl and of pollution from nuclear, chemical, and biological facilities, and from mines and industrial sites, congenital birth defects appear to have increased by 30% to 40%. A 1990 report found that one adult in four was chronically ill.
Meanwhile, the health system has broken down. While hospitals turn patients away because of lack of medicines, many avoid hospitals and clinics altogether because they fear infection from unsterilized syringes. Although Western aid can alleviate some health and environmental problems, Feshbach warns that their scope and complexity suggest progress will be painfully slow.