In an effort to address the chronic problem of depopulation in rural areas of Spain, President Pedro Sánchez took 12 members of his executive cabinet to the sparsely populated La Rioja region on Friday to unveil an ambitious plan and announce the creation of a special cabinet-level commission to address the problems of underpopulated regions of the country that have come to be called Espana vaciada, or “Empty Spain”.
The special Comisión Delegada para el Reto Demográfico (Delegate Commission on Demographic Challenges) will be presided over by Teresa Ribera, the 4th Vice-President and Minister for Environmental Transition and Demographic Challenge in the Sánchez cabinet. Under Ribera’s guidance, the commission will oversee implementation of a 30-point plan that has as its target the reversal of the population drain from rural areas of Spain in recent decades.
Among the measures agreed are the decentralization of central-government agencies to rural regions of Spain to create jobs and reinforce the socio-economic infrastructure of the areas; a plan to promote more distance-learning opportunities in rural Spain through the UNED (National Distance-Learning University) program; and to increase the presence of law enforcement agencies in small towns and villages through establishment of more Guardia Civil posts and patrols.
The plan also calls for the provision of universal broadband coverage from high speed internet providers, with 30-megabytes of download speed to residents of every town and village in rural Spain. The hope is that fewer people will feel as though they need to go to the bigger cities to get this kind of access at an affordable price (with many hoping for broadband deals to come soon after), but this isn’t the end of it. There is also a plan for a rollout of 5G mobile services throughout the Spanish countryside and creation of incentives and affirmative discrimination for rural areas to promote self-generation and consumption of renewable energy among farmers, ranchers, businesses and residents of local communities.
As the site of the announcement Friday, Sánchez chose La Rioja province because it is the least-populated autonomous community, with just 313,000 inhabitants for 0.67 percent of the Spanish population, and at just 61.99 inhabitants per square kilometer well below the national population density average of 93 people per kilometer.
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