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Sicily - Population and Economy

There is an imbalance in the distribution of population, the almost uninhabited inland zone clearly contrasting with the largely populated coastal areas.

There is still considerable migration from the mountains and hills where the economy is prevalently agricultural-pastoral, to the larger towns and industrialized areas along the coast, where earning prospects are improved and living conditions better.

The most densely populated areas are the coastal belt near Catania and Messina, around Palermo, Siracusa and the hinterlands of Agrigento and Licata; the inland underpopulated areas include the highlands of the Sicilian Apennines, Etna, the Erei, Iblei and other high ground in the west.

In the context of southern Italian dialects, Sicilian is divided into a number of sub-dialects, those of Messina, Catania-Siracusa, south-east Sicily, Nissa-Enna, Agrigento, Palermo and Trapani.

There is still a significant linguistic enclaveat Piana degli Albanesi (Palermo) where Albanian is spoken.

The quality of life in Sicily is conditioned by a generally badly developed economy, characterized by a high rate of unemployment, frequently leading to exploitation and crime. Nevertheless, in at least several industrialized areas, the situation has greatly improved in recent years.

From the point of view of the environment, the ecological equilibrium has been disturbed in a number of zones where petrochemical plant has been installed (Gela, Augusta, Siracusa) but the real danger lies in indiscriminate speculative housing construction with no respect for natural surroundings.

Of the economic sectors, the primary is still of great importance both in quality and output, though characterized by a net distinction between the low-productivity inland areas where wheat is extensively cultivated, and the coastal belt, with its specialized cultivation of citrus fruit, orchards and vineyards.

The land is divided into a large number of very small holdings, with the result that incomes are minimum. The most important crops are wheat, carrots, aubergines, peppers, artichokes and courgettes.

Citrus fruit (oranges, lemons and mandarins) are typical of the region, which is undeniably the leading citrus fruit producer in Italy.

Its international markets, however, are no longer safe from the keen competition of other Mediterranean countries such as Spain. There are numbers of plantations, especially of almonds and hazel nuts, as well as olive groves and vineyards (table and wine grapes).

There are still large numbers of sheep but the fishing industry, though in difficulty as a consequence of overfishing Mediterranean waters, is still one of the most important sectors in the regional economy (tunny and swordfish fishing are traditional).

There is a certain amount of exploitation of underground resources, petroleum (Ragusa and Gela areas) as well as potash and sulphur, though the latter is now declining.

In the industrial sector, petrochemicals (near Gela, Ragusa, Siracusa and Augusta) is highly important, while other developed industries include building and the transformation of agricultural and fish products. The principal industrial areas lie around Catania (engineering, pharmaceuticals, electrotechnical industry, food, building materials).

Of the service industries, the commercial sector is fragmented into small units, while the proportion of employment in the public sector is excessive, especially in Palermo.

Banking and finance are active, especially in the larger centres. Tourism is clearly a major surce of income, though still partly suffering from the lack of adequate hotel and other facilities.

Regional communications are still unsatisfactory, though the construction of new roads and highways has partially eased the situation. Links with mainland Italy maintained by sea (Palermo, Messina and Catania) and air (Palermo-Punta Raisi, Catania-Fontanarossa and Trapani-Birgi airports); construction of the bridge over the Strait of Messina is a future project, planned for execution by the end of the century.

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