Tatarstan: reducing poverty in Russia through green initiatives

SEATTLE, Wash. — Poverty in Russia is difficult to measure on a large scale. Russia is divided into 85 official regions, each experiencing poverty a little differently. For example, the administrative division surrounding the two most populous Russian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, has a very high standard of living compared to some of the less prosperous regions. According to a 2017 report by the Russian Ministry of Finance, only 10 of Russia’s 85 regions are economically stable. The other 75 rely heavily on direct federal grants.

Fighting poverty in Russia

In 2012, when President Vladimir Putin was re-elected for his third term, his administration pledged to halve the poverty rate. They released 10,000 billion rubles to develop education, health care and infrastructure to raise the living standards of the poor. While this strategy apparently worked between 2012 and 2013, the percentage of the population living in poverty increased every year between 2013 and 2020.

Independent news source Realnoe Vremya conducted its own survey and assessed the standard of living in each Russian region using specific indicators. These indicators include “the ratio of wages to the local subsistence minimum, poverty and unemployment, and the ratio of income per capita to the cost of the fixed set of consumer goods and services”. The study concluded that only 10 regions in Russia had a high standard of living, while 13 belonged to the “red” category, indicating a dangerously low standard of living.

One region, however, stands out among all these facts and figures. Realnoe Vremya’s study classified the Republic of Tatarstan as “green”, the only region classified as green in the entire Volga Federal District. Tatarstan is not like Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is not a financial region, nor a tourist destination. So how did he manage to escape the low standard of living and poverty of the neighborhood? What makes it different?

Stability of employment in Tatarstan and Kazan

The main difference between Tatarstan and surrounding regions is the availability of new work opportunities, which leads to lower unemployment rates. Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, located on the banks of the Volga and about 822 km east of Moscow, has become an industrial center over the past four years. Construction and automotive companies were the highest paying vacancies in the city and reduced the number of Russian active job seekers by 10%. In a July 2020 analysis report from the Avito Jobs Analysis Center, citizens of Kazan received an average of 42,100 rubles per month, which means that the average salary has increased by 12% since June 2019. This increase wages places the city in fourth place. most prosperous Russian city behind Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

Job opportunities aren’t the only thing Kazan and the great republic of Tatarstan are doing to fight poverty. In a program dedicated to ‘redistribution’, Tatarstan is reassessing what it means to be ‘poor’ and how best to support individuals and families who are ‘truly in need’. The most revolutionary move in these redistributive efforts was the establishment of free childcare for young children and comprehensive health care for children under 3 years old. These new measures were rolled out in January 2020 and have undoubtedly contributed to improving the standard of living in the region. Now that parents can go to work and earn a living wage without worrying about their children at home, more and more families are moving out of poverty.

Russian ecocity

The final strategy that Tatarstan officials are pursuing is the implementation of “Russian Ecocity”. Kazan, the aforementioned industrial hub, has seen many construction projects in recent years to increase sustainability and reinvigorate the labor market. It all started with a team dedicated to redesigning public parks. Natalia Fishman-Bekmambetova, the 24-year-old who led the project, was responsible for building 328 parks.

This project then extended its scope when Rustam Minnikhanov, the President of Tatarstan, issued an open invitation to international architects to create a new eco-district not far from the heart of the capital. As a result, Kazan became Russia’s first ecocity. Designs were submitted from France, Belgium, England and even local Russians. Tartarstan has used this blend of local and international knowledge to build even more sustainable buildings and practices. Smaller initiatives, such as bike lanes and easily accessible trash cans and recycling bins, have had a huge impact on the community. Many had never seen such a thing before, even in the metropolises of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

These new projects continue to provide jobs for Tatar workers and provide affordable and sustainable housing and new means of employment in the future. Thanks to the support of local and international communities, the Tatarstan region, in one of the poorest districts in Russia, has reduced poverty in Russia and provided a better standard of living for its people, while establishing sustainable practices.

—Elisabeth Price
Photo: Flickr

Rose D. Jones