Sunday, December 15, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Restarting Stalled Urbanization Seen as Solution to Daghestan’s Problems

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 15 – Only 45 percent of Daghestanis officially live in urban areas and only 10 percent live in environments that others would class as urban, a pattern far below the all-Russian average, one that is little changed from the 1980s, and one that is a major reason why Daghestan needs so much money from the center but has so little to show for it.

            What needs to happen, Sergey Israpilov argues on, is for the authorities to restart the process of urbanization so that they will be able to provide better services to people living in concentrated urban areas at lower cost and thus become a more attractive place for Daghestanis and a smaller burden on Moscow (

            Moscow is currently spending up to 10 percent of the federal budget on security measures in the North Caucasus, but it is not getting much for its money at least in Daghestan. Public services and the economy are in a shambles, and as many as 300,000 of its population have extremist views and support the militant.

            It is quite obvious, Israpilov continues, that “resolving a problem of this size by purely military means is already impossible.” Consequently, other means need to be sought and employed or the center will simply send ever more money to Daghestan and have little or nothing to show for it.

            This year, he notes, Moscow has sent 46 billion rubles (1.5 billion US dollars) to Makhachakala and next year plans to send 54 billion rubles (1.8 billion US dollars) because the republic authorities collect only about 24 billion rubles (800 million US dollars) in taxes that they retain.

            “One of the main causes” of this economic ineffectiveness, the analyst says, is “the low level of urbanization” of Daghestan. Because the republic government must spend so much on roads, schools and other facilities across the republic which in many cases are under-used, it lacks the funds to build and supply good ones anywhere, even in the capital.

            Urbanization had been rapid from the 1920s until the 1980s, with the urban share of the population rising from 11.4 percent in 1926 to 43.2 percent in 1989, but since that time, this process has effectively stopped: the republic was 42.8 percent urban in 2002 and only 45.2 percent in 2010, according to official figures.

            That is just over half the rate of urbanization of the country as a whole (75 percent), and in fact, these official figures overstate the rate of real urbanization, Izrapilov says  There are only 2300 apartment houses in the republic in which about 240,000 people live – the real urbanites – and these residents form less than 10 percent of the population of the republic.

            Most “urban” residents in Daghestan live in private homes located within the boundaries of the cities but in fact resembling in almost all details the houses these people would have had had they remained in rural areas. And that in turn means that they do not benefit from urbanization as one might expect.

            Unemployment remains higher than it should be, infrastructure in urban areas is under financed – Makhachakala spends only sixth as much per capita on the officially urban as it does for rural populations – and much of it is in bad condition – such as roads – or poorly supplied – such as hospitals – is no better than in rural areas and in some cases even worse.

            It is obvious, the analyst says, that “if the special distribution were lower, hospitals and schools in the republic would be supplied much better, roads would be better, and the overwhelming number of homes would have access to sewage and good water,” something not now the case.

            Moreover, theft of communal services like electricity would decline. At present, about two-thirds of the electricity sent into the grid is “stolen” by not being paid for by those who use it. The figures are far higher in rural areas and in rural-like places in the cities than in apartment complexes. When people don’t pay, the republic can’t, and its debts to suppliers go up.

            The only way to address this problem effectively, Izrapilov continues, is to spend more per capita in the modern sector and less in the non-modern part. That would represent a major change from the current practice in which funds are distributed on the basis of population numbers alone.

            Such a change would make the cities more attractive and restart urbanization, he says.  What he does not say is that such an approach would hurt the already deeply depressed rural half of the population and cause at least some part of it to turn to the anti-government militants who argue that Makhachala wants to destroy their typical way of life.

            Consequently, despite the compelling nature of Izrapilov’s argument in the long term, in the short term, it will be hard for Moscow and Makhachkala to accept because it would almost certainly lead to more radicalism and militancy in what is already the most unstable region of the Russian Federation.

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