Monday, August 10, 2020

La España vaciada – “the hollowed-out Spain”

Spain is succumbing to depopulation.

In November last year, Ángel Márquez, his wife, Zaida Varillas, and three of the four children they have between them, abandoned their home in Venezuela’s Barinas province and came to Spain. Today, along with two other Venezuelan families, they live and work in Pareja, a hilltop town of 400 people in the central Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha. The Venezuelan families are in Pareja thanks to a small new NGO, the Towns with a Future Association, which is working to match depopulated areas with migrants in search of a new life. While many of the migrants it helps are from Venezuela, it is also assisting people from Colombia, Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ukraine, Mali and Nigeria.

 Márquez says, “The people here have been really welcoming. They’re giving us shelter here and we’re going to stay here to help bring life back to these towns.”

Like many towns in what has come to be known as La España vaciada – “the hollowed-out Spain” - younger people move away in search of work and opportunities, taking with them their labour, their skills and, perhaps most importantly, their children. Their absence upsets traditional demographic balances, condemning many small towns and villages to an inevitable decline as shops and services shut down, schools close their doors because of a lack of pupils, and only the older people stay on.

90% of Spain’s population – about 42 million people – is packed into 1,500 towns and cities that occupy 30% of the land. The other 10% (4.6 million people) occupy the remaining 70%, giving a population density of barely 14 inhabitants per square kilometre. Over the past decade, 80% of Spanish municipalities have experienced population falls – a figure that rises to 90% for towns, such as Pareja, that have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.

Antonio Ridruejo, a retired truck driver, is pleased to see the newcomers – especially the youngest ones.

“We need people here – young people – because there are hardly any children here,” he says as he looks out over the main square. “If there were no children, we’d have to close the schools and it would be a dead town. If you don’t have any young people, you have nothing.”

No comments: