The town of Ostana (Source: Wikimedia Commons/Francofranco56)

Pretty late for a new year’s baby but the BBC reports that the tiny Italian mountain town of Ostana welcomed its first newborn since 1987, bringing its total population up to 85.

The birth is being celebrated by the entire area and bringing hope to other towns in the region. Depopulation is a widespread issue among Italy’s small towns, with some mayor’s taking drastic measures, including banning people from getting sick and giving away houses. These unusual strategies have seen varying levels of success; the New York Times reports that the town of Gangi quickly found new owners for 100 free homes, with a substantial waiting list for the remaining 200. And while Mayor Zicchinella may not be able to prevent germs from entering Sellia, over 100 people visited the local clinic for a check-up in the month since illness was banned.

You might wonder how small towns end up so desperate for residents. As noted by the BBC, job shortages are a major factor, and Baby Pablo’s own parents even considered leaving at one point. To help combat depopulation due to unemployment, the European Association of Mountain Areas, Euromontana, has created the PADIMA project to help small mountain towns adopt policies to encourage people to relocate to or keep living in their towns. This has led to community projects like the Italian town of Bracca’s effort to become a community centered around the cultivation of truffles and the rehabilitation and sale of abandoned farmhouses in Norway’s Buskerud region.

In addition to the employment concerns in rural areas, many European nations have compounded the issue with extremely low birth rates. As the population ages and dies, it isn’t fully replenished with new babies, leading to heavy burdens on government services and healthcare for the elderly, plus a shrinking labor force and tax base to fund and staff those services. These low birth rates are the other reason rural depopulation in Italy and other parts of Europe is so striking, with towns like Ostana dropping from populations of thousands to dozens within a century.

Of course, even though the negative effects of phenomena like depopulation are readily apparent, there’s always someone willing to believe it’s the desired effect of a massive, global conspiracy, and this one incorporates all of the conspiracy “greatest hits.” According to the fringe—Henry Kissinger, the Nazis, and Ted Turner all play a part in the UN/secret world government conspiracy to depopulate the Earth of “useless eaters” at the behest of our secret Reptilian overlords. Their chosen methods—vaccines and the false threat of global warming, of course.

Fortunately, conspiracy theories aren’t real (although some take them seriously). Unfortunately, depopulation is a growing concern that could have a significant impact on our future. Hopefully, the various efforts being undertaken—whether unusual or mundane—will work, and Baby Pablo can have some new playmates soon.