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The global population is expected to balloon to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, with Africa’s population doubling in that time and five of the world’s six inhabited continents growing significantly. That growth will pass Eastern Europe by. In fact, the region is rapidly shrinking.

Expand chart
Data: United Nations World Population Prospects; Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

The big picture: According to the United Nations, the 10 fastest shrinking countries on earth are in Eastern Europe. Japan, perhaps the country with the most oft-analyzed demographic challenges, is 11th. Many of those countries are struggling economically, with aging populations, a lack of skilled labor and — in some cases — restrictive immigration policies.

The fastest-shrinking countries

From 2017 to 2050, using UN projections: Countries outside Eastern Europe in bold:

  • 1-5: Bulgaria (23% decrease), Latvia (22%), Moldova (19%), Ukraine (18%), Croatia (17%)
  • 6-10: Lithuania (17%), Romania (17%), Serbia (15%), Poland (15%), Hungary (15%)
  • 11-15: Japan (15%), Georgia (13%), Portugal (13%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (13%), Estonia (13%)
  • 16-20: Lebanon (11.0%), Greece (11%), South Korea (10%), Albania (9%), Belarus (9%)
Case study

Bulgaria’s population is expected to drop more precipitously than that of any other country on earth, declining by 1.7 million by 2050. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Sofia, the capital, and the metropolitan area surrounding it disappearing over the course of three decades.

Chief causes
  • Low birth rates: Total fertility rates range from 1.3 to 1.6 among the 10 fastest-shrinking countries, per the CIA Factbook. For reference, the U.S. rate is 1.9.
  • Departures: Millions of people have left Eastern Europe for wealthier Western European countries. 1 million Bulgarians live abroad, according to the Economist, 700,000 of them in other E.U. countries.
  • Low immigration: Germany’s birth rate is almost exactly the same as Bulgaria’s, but while Bulgaria’s net migration rate is negative, Germany is taking in more migrants than it is losing and as a result is shrinking far more slowly.
    • Paradoxically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, far-right anti-immigrant parties have fared best in areas with dwindling populations, and Eastern European countries have generally been unreceptive to refugees arriving in Europe. (Though, having reached Europe, those refugees are typically seeking settlement in wealthier countries.)
What it looks like

Per the Economist:

“This demographic catastrophe, concentrated in the countryside, finds its cruellest expression in Bulgaria’s neglected north-west, the poorest region of the poorest country in the European Union. Every year the nearby city of Vratsa, a former industrial hub fallen on hard times, shrinks by around 2,000 people. Employers say they cannot find skilled workers; locals say there is no work. People here are poorer, unhappier and likelier to leave than elsewhere in Bulgaria. Kalin Kamenov, Vratsa’s mayor, says that without investment and state support his town will be virtually extinct in ten years.”

Go deeper

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Supporters of former President Trump storm the U.S. Captiol on Jan. 6. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A Texas man who has be charged with storming the U.S. Capitol in the deadly Jan. 6 siege posted death threats against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Department of Justice said.

The big picture: Garret Miller faces five charges in connection to the riot by supporters of former President Trump, including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and making threats. According to court documents, Miller posted violent threats online the day of the siege, including tweeting “Assassinate AOC.”

Schumer calls for IG probe into alleged plan by Trump, DOJ lawyer to oust acting AG

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Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate an alleged plan by former President Trump and a DOJ lawyer to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with someone more willing to investigate unfounded claims of election fraud.

Driving the news: The New York Times first reported Friday that the lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, allegedly devised "ways to cast doubt on the election results and to bolster Mr. Trump’s continuing legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians. Because Mr. [Jeffrey] Rosen had refused the president’s entreaties to carry out those plans, Mr. Trump was about to decide whether to fire Mr. Rosen and replace him with Mr. Clark."

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Brazil begins distributing AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

Containers carrying doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine arrive in Brazil. Photo: Maurio Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images

Brazil on Saturday began distributing the 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine that arrived from India Friday, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: Brazil has the third highest COVID-19 case-count in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The 2 million doses "only scratch the surface of the shortfall," Brazilian public health experts told the AP.