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Russia is among the countries whose populations are aging and shrinking (file) (Courtesy Photo)
June 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union need to act now before it's too late to avert an economic catastrophe brought on by rapidly aging populations.
That's the message of a new World Bank report that warns that the entire region's economic progress could come to a grinding halt by 2025, unless governments act quickly to institute reforms.
One of its authors, Gordon Betcherman, said populations across the region were aging -- and shrinking -- as fertility rates dropped and people lived longer, thanks to higher incomes and better health conditions.
He said this put an enormous strain on countries where the working-age population is shrinking and where pension and health-care systems are already not functioning well.
But he said countries could still avoid economic catastrophe if they took urgent action on several fronts -- getting more people into work, improving the business climate, and ensuring their labor forces were better educated and skilled.