This story reminds us that many rural places across Europe become vulnerable when their diversity and connections seize up. England is more densely populated but many an unimaginative town planner might learn something from pondering on this story. There are places in far flung corners of our country where a blanket presumption against growth and development is a deep threat to the future.

The birth of a baby in the small town of Acquaviva Platani, in inland Sicily, is such a rare event that the village bells toll to celebrate the arrival.

With just 800 inhabitants Acquaviva is among thousands of Italian towns risking extinction in the coming decades, as the country faces an unprecedented crisis of population decline.

For the first time in 90 years the Italian population has fallen to about 55 million, according to the national statistics agency (ISTAT). From 2014 to 2018, the population decreased by 677,000 people.

Two factors are behind the decline according to experts: a decrease in births, which is at an all-time low since the unification of Italy, and an increase in the emigration of young people to other European countries in search of job opportunities. According to ISTAT nearly 157,000 people left the country in 2018.

UN reports that Italy is the only major European economy with a population set to decline further in the next five years. It ranks second – behind only Japan – in terms of having the greatest share of older people, with an estimated 168.7 people over 65 for every 100 young people.

Most people living in Acquaviva are more than 60 years old, and the number of deaths fluctuates between 20 and 30 each year. As for the bells announcing the birth of a child, they only ring once or, at the most, three times a year.

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