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Putin's social projects bearing fruit

The Russian Government is due to discuss this year's results of the radical
social reform programmes introduced by President Putin two years ago.
Another year has passed, and Russians are asking whether any improvements
have been made to the lives of ordinary citizens.

After the reforms of the 1990s, which produced a handful of tycoons but left
millions below the poverty line, bitter memories still linger. So it's no
surprise that the Government is focusing on social issues as never before.

Two years ago, President Putin translated his vision for social improvement
into four programmes. These were intended to secure the nation's livelihood
in the years ahead.

At their inception in 2005, the aim of the National Projects was to pump
money into the nation's social welfare areas. The goal was to improve the
lives of Russians. How successful have they been?


Health remains the focal point, as Russia combats the demographic crunch.
And there are battles won here. This year, the birth rate has increased by
8% compared with 2006.

Fatima Erkenova, the editor-in-chief of the "National Projects" journal,
sees the results of the health programme as obvious.

"The quality of medical service has grown after we raised salaries for
doctors. New ambulance cars were bought. For the first time, like other
developed countries, Russia is able to provide HIV positive people with all
the necessary medicines. All this helps to lower the death rate, and
increase life expectancy", Erkenova said.


Another area that's been seeing significant financial aid from the
Government is education. In 2007 $US 440 million went into modernizing the
educational system. That included raising salaries for teachers, installing
the internet in almost all the country's schools, and improving educational

As a result Russia's ten-year-olds have shown the greatest reading ability
among their peers, according to a global literacy study.


Under the Housing programme, Russia has already built 30% more accommodation
this year, than during the same period in 2006.

Fatima Erkenova, the editor-in-chief of the "National Projects" journal,
believes that housing has become more affordable

"Real estate mortgages are becoming more and more popular. But building
materials still need to become more affordable," Erkenova said.


And in the area of agriculture, it seems that work done is helping to lift
rural communities out of decline. Erkenova sees the work in villages surge
in prestige.

"Now businesses can see that they should invest more in rural communities.
There's also been a lot of state support. We're constantly in touch with
people in the regions. At first, they were mainly critical - or rather,
skeptical. They thought the National Projects were just words on paper. But
now, local authorities have a more positive attitude towards the projects.
They say that without them, many problems would have remained unsolved,"
Erkenova said.

Doubts exist

However, some say that besides technical support, efficient management of
funds is necessary. Still, although some healthy skepticism exists, it's
becoming clear that Russia's radical social reforms are bearing fruit.

The recent consumer boom and growth of the country's middle class seem to
confirm that fortune's pendulum is swinging back once more


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