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News > Spain

‘Empty Spain’: A Call for Action Against Increasing Ghost Towns

  • Empty Spain protestors took to the streets of Madrid on Sunday.

    Empty Spain protestors took to the streets of Madrid on Sunday. | Photo: Podemos Mundo Rural Twitter

Published 31 March 2019

The movement protests against depopulation, urban-centered policies from the national government, and the lack of infrastructure in their rural regions in Spain. 

Tens of thousands of Spaniards took to the streets of Madrid Sunday to protest under the campaign of “Empty Spain”, a national platform that urges the government to take actions against a growing concern of rural depopulation. 

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The movement, initiated by 85 grassroots organizations, has come to be known as the “revolt of an empty Spain”. They protest against depopulation, urban-centered policies from the national government, and the lack of infrastructure in their rural regions. All which have created what has come to be known as ghost towns, completely uninhabited villages and rural areas. 

“We are first-class citizens, just like everyone else. I want my people to be alive, ", said Miriam Martin, a 39-year-old rural professional who came from Piedrahita, a town in Avila with some 1,800 inhabitants. 

The protest turnout estimates range from 50,000 demonstrators, according to authorities, to 100,000 according to organizers, all coming from rural and remote regions throughout 24 provinces of Spain. 

"The bleeding does not stop. Today in Spain 26 provincial capitals lose population. And if capitals recede, imagine the fall in the villages. We can not let the rural regions agonize,"  journalists Manuel Campo Vidal, former president of the Television Academy, and Paloma Zuriaga, director of RNE told El Pais.

A map that shows the red areas are reported less than eight inhabitants per square kilometer. Photo: Izquierda Unida Segovia

The issue can clearly be seen on a map, as 53 percent of the national territory is inhabited by only 5 percent of the population, according to a study by the Research Centre on Depopulation and Development of Rural Areas (Ceddar). In Spain, 48 percent of the municipalities have a population density lower than 12.5 inhabitants per square kilometer, a threshold considered low by the European Union. 


And even though the rural population increased between 2000 and 2010, it since has declined to approximately 9,17 million people. From 2011 to 2017, almost 62% of localities lost their neighbors, according to data from the Government Commissioner regarding the Demographic Challenge. But people do not just leave small villages, also from main cities in the country’s interior.

For example, the municipality of Molina de Aragon in the Guadalajara province (northwestern Spain) has a population density inferior to Siberia. With 1.63 inhabitants per kilometer, it is the area that suffers the most in this process of depopulation. And the lack of people it’s not just the problem.

The affected territories are usually “economically depressed areas that are going backward or show less dynamic economies in contrast to other parts of the country,” the Ceddar report states. 

Janovas is an abandoned village in the province of #Huesca.

The problem resides also in a demographic change in the country. Spain’s fertility rate of 1.3 percent in 2017 was the second-lowest in the EU, after Malta, and the gap in the country between urban and rural births is one of the widest in the bloc. This lack of young people means the population isn’t replenished in order to generate functional local economies, pushing people towards bigger urban cities. 

Yet as rural Spaniards protest, business has taken advantage. According to the realtor Aldeas Abandonadas (Abandoned Villages), there are about 1,500 discarded hamlets in Spain, which are now been put on sale for as less than US$100,000. 

These large land properties are been bought as secondary investments changing the agricultural production dynamic they once had. Something organizers have warned, stating the fact that food for the big cities come from rural land. 

This new wave of manifestations come as Spain faces a very disputed national election on April 28,  where the rural vote will be key. 

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