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Key services still available in countryside

The postman delivers and collects mail in rural areas

(Keystone Archive)

A new report says Swiss living in the countryside continue to have good access to most services, although it is easier to find a restaurant than a pharmacy.

The findings of the Federal Statistics Office come in the middle of a debate over which essential services should be continued to be provided to peripheral regions.

The office said on Monday that there were disparities between 1998 and 2001 depending on the type of service and a person's place of residence.

Getting a coffee or a meal is easier than reaching a hospital in most cases. More than 90 per cent of the population lives within less than a kilometre of a restaurant, while only one in six people reside within the same range of a medical clinics.

Access to kindergartens, primary schools and doctors' surgeries is relatively simple for most citizens. But they have to travel further – more than two kilometres on average - to find a pharmacy.

Rural areas suffer from lower availability of services, which are being concentrated in urban zones. Towns and cities usually provide easy access, while small mountain villages and resorts in remote locations struggle to cover basic needs.

Country dwellers travel three times further – 830 metres - than their counterparts in the city to reach the nearest grocery store.

Differences between rural and urban zones are not the same for all types of services. Out in the country, the distance to reach a restaurant is more than twice as long as in the city, but it is only 50 per cent more to get to the next post office.

The distance to the nearest grocery store increased over the three-year period, mainly because many shops closed in rural areas, according to the statistics office.

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Getting to a crèche or a cinema improved during the same time frame, with most people travelling less than a kilometre.

Access to banks and postal services became more difficult, mainly in the country, because of branch offices closing.

The disappearance – real or planned - of public services in some regions has been the object of widespread political debate.

Economiesuisse, the Swiss Business Federation, has been in favour of liberalisation of postal services. But trade unions say Swiss Post's monopoly must be maintained to ensure universal service.

Liberalisation - they have warned - will hit peripheral regions hardest. Some post offices have attempted to add to their range of services to survive, while some villages only see the postman pass by now.

Rationalisation of health services and the closure of some hospitals have led to protests as well, although given the high cost of medical care and health insurance premiums, resistance has been less than for post office shutdowns.

swissinfo with agencies

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