More funds needed to stop depopulation of rural areas

The Association of Entrepreneurs has been ringing alarm bells with regard to the depopulation and abandonment of many small villages in rural areas with poor infrastructure and services. According to the outcome of a study commissioned by the association the process can be reversed by money invested into local development and tourism.

Photo: Denisa TomanováPhoto: Denisa Tomanová Many small towns and villages with a population of under 3,000 inhabitants are slowly turning into ghost towns. Young people opt for life in the city and such villages are gradually left with elderly inhabitants who often have a problem meeting their daily needs and securing basic services. Typically such a place is hard to reach by inter-city transport, has a single mixed-goods shop and lacks a school as well as any kind of sporting or cultural facilities. People have to travel to nearby towns to see a doctor, get to a pharmacy or use a bank machine. In many of these places even the postal service has transferred its duties to the local shopkeeper.

Young people are leaving such villages in droves because they want better living conditions and more opportunities for themselves or their children. According to a study commissioned by the Association of Entrepreneurs money for local development and tourism can stop or reverse the process of rural depopulation, by creating local jobs, improving the local infrastructure and services, opening up new possibilities for tourism and making the place attractive for people interested in buying country cottages or running a holiday motel or farm. Clean air, a clean environment and affordable land and property prices would bring in newcomers if living conditions improved.

The problem is that whilst in the past the EU gave the Czech Republic the equivalent of 54 billion crowns in support of tourism and regional development, now funds are being channeled elsewhere. With EU support in this field having temporarily ground to a halt the Association of Entrepreneurs is calling on subsidies from domestic funds namely the Ministry for Regional Development. Deputy Minister for Regional Development Klára Dostálová said the ministry is already channeling hundreds of millions of crowns into infrastructure and services in less-populated rural areas. At the same time she says the Czech Republic and other EU member states who are currently not receiving funds for the development of their tourist industries are knocking on doors in Brussels to highlight the importance of continued funding in this area. What it would take is for money from certain programmes –such as enterprise and innovation – being released for tourist industry related investments, which Dostálová hopes will be possible as of next year.