In Russia, over 1200 people drowned – no, not last decade, or even last year – last week (June 2010)! Between June 5th and 12th, a hot spell, 233 people drowned.
By comparison, the US, with almost three times the population, had a total of 3,304 drowning deaths in 2004. Assuming there hasn’t been a sudden up-tick in drowning fatalities in the US, simple crunching of the numbers suggests you are 13 times more likely to drown in Russia than in the States.
Is there a preponderance of hostile bodies of water in Russia? Nope; far from it. The demon at work there is vodka. The overwhelming majority of drowning deaths is drunk males. A significant proportion of the deaths of young children arise from failure of supervision by… drunk males.
A related (perhaps even more ominous) factoid is that there are only three countries in the world in which life expectancy is declining. Russia is one of them. For males, you are actuarially pegged not to make it to your 60th year; again, largely attributable to the extraordinary prevalence of alcohol abuse resulting in accidents, health failure and suicide.
Although it’s harder to trace a causal sequence to alcohol, Russia is on the verge of a demographic crisis – massive population decline. The implications for life there are profoundly grim. Life expectancy, fertility rates, single parent families and a likely host of other factors are driving the country into a steeply precipitous decline. But alcohol, alcoholism and the accepted centrality of alcohol abuse in daily life are clearly serious contributing factors.
One of Russia’s featured exports is vodka. Maybe consumers should think twice about importing a lifestyle with a consumable. If things unfold the way they seem to be, it will perhaps be the first historical example of a nation literally having its bus to ruin powered by ethanol.