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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Pleads for a Change in Behavior

Russia may be swimming in a sea of petrodollars, but the key to the country's long-term development lies in a fundamental change in behavior and attitudes, according to report released by a United Nations agency Monday.

Changing attitudes toward health, life and gender equality is necessary if a slide into the demographic abyss is to be prevented, says the report entitled "Russia Toward 2015: Development Goals and Policy Priorities."

"Russian human capital can and must become a more important resource than its natural resources," said Anastasia Aleksandrova, one of the authors of the UN Development Program's report, which for the first time adapts the UN's Millennium Development Goals to make them more relevant to Russia.

The 10th annual Human Development Report, the study measures human development across Russia.

Overtaking Moscow for the first time, the oil-rich region of Tyumen, in western Siberia, came out with the highest rating on the Human Development Index, a measurement based on literacy, life expectancy and income.

The study -- based on 2002 statistics -- found that Moscow and Tyumen are the only regions that meet the HDI levels of developed countries.

Despite its expanding economy and its well-educated work force, Russia faces a number of acute problems characteristic of the world's poorest nations.

"There are two regions in the world where life expectancy is declining: It's sub-Saharan Africa and Russia," said Kirill Danishevsky, one of the report's authors. "One doesn't even need money [to stop it], one needs political will."

At close to 14 years, the gap in life expectancy between men and women in Russia is the highest in the world. By 2015, the gap would ideally be narrowed to three years, the UNDP says.

Economic growth has done nothing to stop an increasing numbers of deaths due to suicide, homicide and alcohol abuse, the report says. Russian men appear to be on a mission to kill themselves with alcohol, drugs and cigarettes, the report shows.

Alcohol poisoning is thought to cost 50,000 Russian lives annually, according to the UNDP's most recent statistics. That figure should be cut by more than half by 2015, the target date for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals.

The authors said there was an urgent need to raise awareness about leading healthier lifestyles to reverse trends. "I don't believe that the average Russian wants to die. I believe that Russians don't know what to do to stay healthy," Danishevsky said.

The UN agency highlights in particular the issue of gender equality, noting it has been absent from the government's radar screen.

"The Russian government has not set itself a single task in the sphere of gender equality," the study says.

While women are better educated than men in Russia, they are paid less than their male colleagues, even in professions traditionally considered female. In 2003, women were paid on average 64 percent of the amount men earned, the report shows.

"The high level of female education renders itself redundant," the study said.

Women in decision-making roles are few and far between in Russia, with women accounting for only 9.8 percent of current State Duma deputies -- a proportion similar to that in Cambodia, said Marina Baskakova, an author of the report. The goal is to increase the share of female parliament deputies to 50 percent by 2015.

The fate of many Russian women in the work force could also be affected by Russia's possible accession to the World Trade Organization, currently under negotiation. WTO membership would affect industries such as textiles, food processing and agriculture where more women work than men, the study says.

In attaining the 2015 goals, one of Russia's main problems is the lack of trust between civil society and the state.

The "distrust between the authorities and business, and between the population and the authorities, bears an extremely destructive character," Said Batkibekov, director for social and economic strategy at the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, said at the presentation of the report.

In terms of poverty, Russia should aim to halve the percentage of the population living in abject poverty to 10 percent from the current level of 20.4 percent, according to the UNDP goals.

Russia's economic prospects would be enhanced if the country were to allow the entry of 2 million immigrant workers by 2015, the UNDP concludes.

The report exposed failings in how statistics are collected, Alexander Surinov, deputy director of the State Statistics Service, said at Monday's event.

The report was compiled by Russian experts with the support of the UNDP and other UN agencies. The eight Millennium Development Goals -- which include reducing extreme poverty and halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, all by 2015 -- form a blueprint agreed on by all countries and development institutions.