Κυριακή, 2 Σεπτεμβρίου 2007

Demographic trends and natural capital as important factors for the local development of Agiasos, Lesvos

DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS AND NATURAL-SOCIAL CAPITAL AS IMPORTANT FACTORS FOR THE LOCAL DEVELOPMENT: THE CASE OF AGIASOS, LESVOS, GREECE.


Papanis E., Rondos K., Htouris S., Roumeliotou M.

University of the Aegean, Sociology Department


Introduction

The aim of this presentation is to point out the important role demographic factors and the natural-social capital play for local development, drawing upon the inductive model implemented on the insular region of the North Aegean Sea and the historical municipality of Agiasos, in Lesvos, Greece.

Demographic trends are, first of all, closely related to the economic growth and social progress of a specific people or region. History itself has proven that economic and social progress is based on demographic vigour, while on the other hand economic decline and social regression, even in the case of whole empires, goes hand in hand with demographic decline.

In the 1960s and 1970s, post-war Greece experienced a great emigration wave towards overseas and West European countries (mainly to former West Germany). This resulted in a decline in fertility, which was further downgraded by the loss of reproductive population which had emigrated and a subsequent dramatic downfall in births. This is the process followed towards demographic ageing.

The second main demographic characteristic of post-war period is the great urbanisation of the two metropolitan centres of the country. On the one hand, this fact contributed to the growth of the country, but on the other hand caused serious inequalities on regional level.

The afore-mentioned demographic processes resulted in the current unfavourable demographic situation of the local communities in Greece, which undermines any attempt for development as well as local sustainability. Therefore, this should be taken into serious consideration before undertaking and implementing any policy of local development.




Demographic trends in the N. Aegean Region and in Agiasos municipality

We have particularly chosen to present these demographic changes by referring to the study we conducted in the region of the North Aegean Sea – where this conference is taking place – as well as in the municipality of Agiasos, Lesvos. Apart from reasons of “locality”, this particular region has been chosen for two more reasons. In the first place, the region of the North Aegean Sea experienced dramatic demographic changes during post-war period and, thus, serves as a good example for our analysis. Secondly, the insular character of the region, which lost its significance when the Turks occupied Minor Asia in 1922, the agricultural economy, as well as the slow development of industry-handicraft and services, constitute the basic characteristics of the region. All these, in combination with the demographic changes in the region, form its profile and, consequently, determine the growth pattern and its potential for development.

Agiasos is the typical case of a local community, which after a long period of development and demographic vigour during the past centuries, experienced after war a decline from a demographic, social and economic point of view.

Regarding demographic changes in the region of the North Aegean Sea, the mass emigration wave led to a declining demographic trend in the region during the post-war period. The population shrinkage met its climax between 1961-1971. During this decade the population of the region reached annual decrease by 1.88%. This decrease went on during the next decade 1971-1981 (by 0.75% per year). In the next most recent decades (1981-1991 and 1991-2001) demographic increase (by 0.21% and 0.34% per year accordingly) was owed to the influx of students of the University of the Aegean and immigrants from neighbouring countries.

In any case, the relevant percentage of the population of the North Aegean Sea in the total population of the country presents an ongoing decline from 3.69% in 1951 to 1.88% in 2001. Such change is due to the fact that the region presents a more unfavourable shift in its growth rate in comparison with the whole country.


(table 1 about here)


The region of the North Aegean Sea faces the serious problem of low birth rate, since great part of the reproductive population has emigrated. The Gross Birth Rate Index falls from 15% in 1961 to 12.08% in 1981 and 8.45% in 1999.


(table 3 about here)


Moreover, as is the case of Greece and Europe as a whole, the region is also characterised by a downward trend in fertility rate.


(table 4 about here)


This is due to the consequent increase in the population belonging to less reproductive ages. The population of the region has ceased reproducing itself since 1981. As a matter of fact, the fertility index for this year was 2.22 children per woman aged between 15-44. This index fell to 1.41 in 1999. The Gross Mortality Index kept on rising until 1981, despite the improvement in medical services provided, hygiene and living conditions. This is owing to the decrease in population and subsequent population ageing. The adverse impact of the unfavourable population structure is evident when bearing in mind that the index came up until recently (in 1999) to 12.31% in the region, while being below 10% in the total population of post-war Greece (National Statistical Service of Greece, 2002).


(table 2 about here)


Consequence of the afore-mentioned changes is demographic ageing, since in 1981 105.25 individuals aged above 65 corresponded to 100 children aged 0-14, while in 2001 the corresponding index comes up to 148.25 : 100 in 2001.

The afore-mentioned structural characteristics of the population in the region of the North Aegean Sea are quite evident in the population pyramid of the years 1981 and 2001. Low birth rate is obvious by the small-sized rectangles at the base of the pyramid, especially in the pyramid of the year 2001. The great lack of reproductive ages (rectangles in the middle of the pyramid) is also evident in both pyramids. Finally, the larger rectangles representing higher ages clearly reflect the problem of population ageing. The above tendencies will go on to form a pyramid turned upside-down with deviations in age groups 15-19 and 20-24, where special population groups are represented, i.e. students and soldiers.


(diagrams 1 and 2 about here)


Since the beginning of the 20th century the population of Agiasos has been continuously decreasing (Table 5). In the last decades there is a great decrease of population. Taking into account the period as a whole the population of Agiasos in 2001 is less than half of its population in the beginning of the century. However, the greatest losses are to be noticed after 1971. There is a typical participation of Agiasos population in the whole population of Lesvos (around 4%) from the beginning of the century till 1981.


(table 5 about here)


Great losses in young population and the expansion of the ageing population is demonstrated in the population pyramid of Agiasos.


(diagram 3 about here)


Critical Natural capital and social networks in Agiasos

Traditional economic theories place an exaggerated significance on capital and view nature mainly as a source of raw material, an inexhaustible stoke of goods, which must be rationed. It is only until recently that the realization that natural resources are not inexhaustible has led to the extended use of the term “critical natural capital”, referring to all those natural parameters which cannot be substituted by human intervention and considerably affect the mentality, well-being, knowledge and institutions of a society.

Natural environment, therefore, which according to past economic theories was just a sector to be exploited, takes on great importance nowadays, since it also involves procedures that aim at maintaining life, ensuring means of production, acquiring information and keeping mental balance.

There is great correlation among these factors and they have a strong impact on social reality. Furthermore, even the value system on which every society is based seems to be affected by nature. Natural capital determines the customs and the structure patterns of a society and plays a determining role in knowledge production.

More specifically, it affects the following sectors:

  • Recreation (natural capital offers the chance to get away from stressful urban areas and enjoy oneself in the open air through clinical applications)

  • Production of scientific knowledge (through acquisition of chemical and genetic information about organisms, biological observations)

  • Knowledge transfer (by drawing up material for educational purposes and founding natural history museums, study visits)

  • Linking natural evolution with historical formation of societies (impact of natural conditions on economic and political synthesis of a society, e.g. production of lignite => industrial development => cancerogenesis in the region of Ptolemaida and Kozani)

  • Study of cultural identity, which is closely related to the adoption of certain customs by a specific society

  • Religiousness (study of rituals which were take up under certain natural conditions)

  • Mental and psychological health (the increase in neuroses and psychological diseases in urban areas, as well as the dramatic increase of stressful disorders affects the economy of a place and the production of scientific knowledge)

It is true that the advantages of critical natural capital are not only to be found in services of ecological significance. It also facilitates psycho-social functions (physical, psychological and mental health). Empirical studies have proven that critical natural capital can also function as a supportive factor, although it is rarely included in the quality of life criteria.

Studies carried out during the 60s proved that human beings depend on nature and pointed out the psychological benefits drawn through contact with nature (Bladgroen, 1963). Moreover, a typical example certifying this relation of dependence and interaction between the two constitutes the experimental study of Ulrich (1984) on operated patients. It was found in his study that the post-operative phase was much shorter and less painful for patients who stayed in a room with a nice view in comparison with those whose room had no view.

Furthermore, a study carried out by Kuo (1998) shows that the existence of parks in urban centers encourages social bonding and promotes friendships. The image of “green” acts as a source of energy and rids individuals of all stressful stimuli they may receive.

A study carried out in France and the Netherlands was about the attitudes of inhabitants towards nature. It was found that:

  • The preservation of ecological procedures is an inheritance for future generations and greatly affects psychological health. Moreover, it teaches individuals to place importance on non-material patterns.

  • The sense of freedom, beauty, unity and participation increases and quality of life is improved.

  • Nature is not to be viewed as totally detached from culture, but their relation is rather complementary.

The economic significance of critical natural environment can be identified as follows:

  • Resources are saved for the benefit of national health systems and insurance companies.

  • Τourism (foundation of recreation centers, tourist resorts and beauty centers)

  • Physical health

  • Studies and books about natural surroundings

  • Mass Media. Documentaries and articles about nature.

  • Sale of traditional products that are directly related with natural surroundings of a specific region.

  • Voluntary work by members of environmental organizations.

In view of all the above, it can be realized that the rich natural surroundings of Agiasos, which tend to be abandoned nowadays, can serve as a pole of attraction for the whole region. The foundation of wild flora and fauna parks, contacts with ecological organizations and a natural history museum would attract students (study visits) and volunteers. Biological and psychological health ensured by the natural surroundings of Agiasos could be taken advantage of for the establishment of old peoples homes or rehabilitation centers from diseases. In this way, new job posts would be created and offered in the region. The abandoned agricultural activity should not be traditionally based on obsolete governmental policies and subsidies. On the contrary, it should be based on the encouragement of local or individual initiatives which go beyond the traditional non-profitable methods of product processing. Nevertheless, the setting up of centers for the production of traditional goods would end up in even more profitable enterprises.

When studying the economic and professional activity in Agiasos the specific characteristics of the long standing family networks should be carefully considered. Their study can provide useful information on initiatives and measures that must be taken towards the improvement of the residents’ life standard. It must be noted that family networks in the agricultural area of Agiasos guarantee social cohesion and constitute important control and comparative mechanisms for every individual activity. Family networks and social capital can be used as means of development and account for Agiasos distinctive features. They procure for the less favoured social groups, such as women, and lower the residents’ insecurity levels. This trend seems to be maintained even among the young population of middle or low educational levels. On the contrary, the classes with a higher educational background tend to refuse to depend on social networks and display greater autonomy, trust to their own abilities, to the wider sources of information diffuse, to knowledge society and, to the innovative and modernistic practices.

Social networks in Agiasos are to a great extent responsible for its cultural character and maintain the traditional values and social cohesion intact. As such, they deactivate the procedures of change, influencing the of the residents’ quality life and local development. Networks are so extended and deep that they most likely contribute significantly to any attempt of reforming local economy. Social networks have to be oriented towards more updated methods of production, product distribution and trade, maintaining, though, their supportive role. In this way, a more sustainable form of development will be established, which will not be imposed by external factors, but will have already been tested by cultural environment.


(graph 1)


It has been found that full-time employees have significantly used their friends, acquaintances and families in order to find the particular job post in which they are currently employed. Another important percentage of this category, 46,9%, claims that they have used other sources of information, mostly personal research. Yet, the interviews that were conducted, reveal that a large percentage of the employed still get, even now, financial support from family members. These differences in percentages are statistically significant (p=0.001<0.05).

Counterbalance to all those are the social networks which ensure a level of prosperity, trated the social “web” through extended regional networks.


Conclusions – suggested policies

It is quite obvious that the situation in the municipality of Agiasos and the region as a whole is particularly unfavourable and becomes even worse in light of the modern structural changes which are taking place worldwide and are related to technology advancement, market enlargement and the progress of services.

The bottom-up model emphasizes the importance of human, natural, social and cultural capital of a region as enhancements of local development. The efficiency of any European and National plan based on theoretical assumptions and not in empirical data is under question. The inductive model is people oriented in the sense that every proposed action derives from the needs of local population and their scope of quality of life. Agiasos’ inhabitants proposed the following measures, which they are considered as immediate priorities:

  • There is a growing demand of specialized training and lifelong learning programmes in sectors relevant to the town’s historical and geographical background. The same applies for modern specializations, such as entrepreneurship, digital technologies, public relations and communication. It is a common belief that despite the natural wealth or the area, the products (olive oil, chestnuts, pears, apples, floriculture, wood, pottery, woodcraft etc), the long standing culture (theatre, music) and tradition are not fully taken advantage of.

  • Underdevelopment is also true in the case of tourism: The natural resources of the island could be systematically promoted by a well organized campaign in major cities world wide. Very few Europeans have even heard of the island of Sappfo and even fewer know about the possibilities it offers for adventure tourism, agro tourism, medical tourism, religious tourism and fishing. Information kiosks in many countries and advertisements by the National Tourist Organization are essential. In co-operation with the University of the Aegean and other European and American Institutions summer schools, conferences and seminars could find in Agiasos an excellent environment to be conducted.

  • Community initiatives concerning border development, cross-border cooperation and commercial networks between Lesvos and Asia Minor have failed due to high custom taxation and negative stereotypes. However, the tendency now supports the strengthening of the relations and the formation of co-operations with the neighbouring country, in view of European Community accession. Transportation costs of products to the mainland constitute a barrier to sustainable development and citizens urge for the need of expanding the target markets and improve transportation, especially during the winter period.

  • The citizens of Agiasos proposed the exemption from VAT for all traditional products and the adoption of a general motivation policy for all enterprises situated in North Aegean Sea.

  • The people of Agiasos are very much concerned by the lack of medical, state and welfare services in the town, which exaggerates the dependency from Mytilene, the capital of the island or Athens. The same inadequacies are obvious to every effort for decentralization, with the municipality of Agiasos having to face bankruptcy. Private initiatives are doomed in failure due to the demographic problems and the traditional family centred culture of local companies.

  • Finally, the spiritual deterioration of provincial areas, which adopt the sub-culture products of the mainstream ‘Athenian fashion’ is responsible for the total loss of agricultural life style and values.

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APPENDIX

TABLES, DIAGRAMS AND GRAPHS



TABLE 1







POPULATION IN THE N. AEGEAN REGION AND GREECE AND ANNUAL CHANGES IN 1951 - 2001







YEAR

N. AEGEAN REGION POPULATION

% OF AVERAGE ANNUAL CHANGE

POPULATION OF GREECE

% OF AVERAGE ANNUAL CHANGE

% OF N. AEGEAN IN TOTAL GREEK POPULATION

1951

281327

-

7632801

-

3,69

1961

254496

-1,00

8388553

0,94

3,03

1971

210459

-1,88

8768641

0,44

2,00

1981

195004

-0,75

9739589

1,05

2,40

1991

199231

0,21

10259900

0,52

1,94

2001

206121

0,34

10964020

0,66

1,88

Source: NSSG, processing of population censuses data from 1951 - 2001



TABLE 2


POPULATION DISTRIBUTION IN THE PREFECTURES OF NORTH AEGEAN REGION, AGE GROUPS 0-14 AND ABOVE 65 IN 1981


Age groups

PREFECTURE

0-14

above 65

POPULATION AGE INDEX

LESVOS

22108

22271

100,74

SAMOS

8133

10190

125,29

CHIOS

10557

10477

99,24

N. AEGEAN

40798

42938

105,25


POPULATION DISTRIBUTION IN THE PREFECTURES OF NORTH AEGEAN REGION, AGE GROUPS 0-14 AND ABOVE 65 IN 1991


Age groups

PREFECTURE

0-14

above 65

POPULATION AGE INDEX

LESVOS

17902

21459

119,87

SAMOS

7169

8934

124,62

CHIOS

9988

9682

96,94

N. AEGEAN

35059

40075

114,31



POPULATION DISTRIBUTION IN THE PREFECTURES OF NORTH AEGEAN REGION, AGE GROUPS 0-14 AND ABOVE 65 IN 2001

Age groups

PREFECTURE

0-14

above 65

POPULATION AGE INDEX

LESVOS

15819

24088

152,27

SAMOS

6204

9696

156,29

CHIOS

8083

10971

135,73

N. AEGEAN

30106

44755

148,66


































TABLE 3


BIRTH RATE INDEX OF N. AEGEAN REGION POPULATION IN 1999









YEARS

BIRTHS

DEATHS

POPULATION TOTAL

% OF BIRTHS ON TOTAL

% OF DEATHS ON TOTAL


1981

2355

2755

195004

12,08

14,13


1991

1786

2691

199231

8,96

13,51


1999

1742

2538

206121

8,45

12,31


Source: NSSG, processing of population censuses data in 1981, 1991, 2001




The total population for 1999 is the population derived from 2001 census


1999

1991

1981

PREFECTURES

BIRTHS

DEATHS

BIRTHS

DEATHS

BIRTHS

DEATHS

LESVOS

962

1385

903

1463

1202

1473

SAMOS

331

527

363

596

442

578

CHIOS

449

626

520

632

711

704

N. AEGEAN

1742

2538

1786

2691

2355

2755




TABLE 4


BIRTH RATE INDEX IN THE N. AEGEAN REGION PER YEAR


YEARS

BIRTHS

WOMEN AGED 15-44

FERTILITY INDEX

1981

2355

31838

2,22

1991

1786

33867

1,58

1999

1742

37150

1,41

Source: NSSG, processing of population censuses data in 1981, 1991, 2001


TABLE 5


POPULATION OF AGIASOS AND LESVOS IN 1913-2001

YEAR

LESVOS

AGIASOS

AGIASOS AS % OF LESVOS

1913

140846

5915*

-

1920

113368

4893

4.3

1928

137160

5679

4.1

1940

166355

6066

3.6

1951

126928

5700

4.5

1961

117378

5012

4.3

1971

97013

3885

4.0

1981

88603

3427

3.9

1991

87151

2988

3.4

2001

90743

2581

2.8

Source: NSSG, processing of population censuses data from 1913-2001

* Estimation






DIAGRAM 1




DIAGRAM 2



DIAGRAM 3


GRAPH 1

QUALITY OF LIFE AND SOCIAL NETWORKS IN AGIASOS




Social networks (friendships, relations) are strong enough to compensate for any other deficiency


Interpersonal relations in my town are so friendly and sincere, that boost my social identity




1


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