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Refilling 'Empty Spain': Saving vanishing villages with 130 strategies and multi-million funding
07 June 2021 @ 07:18


AMBITIOUS plans are afoot to halt the rural exodus and prevent huge swathes of Spain from becoming uninhabited as their existing populations grow older and those of working age leave - around €10 billion of the country's European Union development funds will be ploughed into saving the countryside.

Anciles, a village in León - a province that suffers from a rapidly-declining population in its rural parts (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

'Depopulation' is increasing rapidly in inland parts a long way from large towns and cities as they become trapped in an unbreakable circle: Low inhabitant numbers, mostly retired and many elderly, few young adults and few or no children mean there is little call for 'modern' facilities, schools, long-distance transport links or job opportunities, and companies – including internet and mobile phone service providers – are not willing to invest in these areas as their minimal customer base would automatically be loss-making; but the lack of these facilities means young adults and those of child-bearing age cannot feasibly live there.

Despite last year's lockdown making city-dwellers and those in flats or townhouses without terraces start to yearn for outside spaces of their own, and the rise in home-working due to the pandemic meaning the longed-for countryside life of many seem more of a reality as being close to the office ceased to dictate where they set up home, without practical features such as schools for their children and good, fast internet, this apparently obvious solution continues to prove largely unworkable.

Rural campaign group Teruel Existe, which sought to remind the powers that be in the capital that the sparsely-populated province of Teruel (Aragón) did in fact exist and deserve consideration, became a political party and, for the first time in Spain's history, gained a seat in Parliament after the November 2019 elections. 

Its MP, Tomás Guitarte, has been able to make his voice heard where it matters, and a nationwide string of groups along the lines of Teruel Existe have banded together to create strength in numbers, calling itself España Vaciada ('Emptied Spain').

Guitarte stresses that 'time is running out' for the rural vastness which is losing inhabitants hand over fist, and that if 'in a year or two' no action is taken, 'many villages will literally disappear'.

This has already happened over the past 50 years or so: Villages in provinces such as Teruel and Cuenca (Castilla-La Mancha) ended up being inhabited by just one family, their headcount dwindling to single figures, and eventually leaving or dying out, with only ghost towns and empty houses left behind.

Also for the first time in Spain's political history, a comprehensive plan with a deadline and funding has been created: A total of 130 measures, split into 10 major areas, have been penned and, backed by the promised €10bn in EU funds, seeks to 'guarantee equality' for Spain's least-occupied parts.

Guitarte, and España Vaciada's leader Antonio Saz, are both said to be pleased so far with what national president Pedro Sánchez has pledged to start putting in place 'within a very, very short time'.


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