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Arctic Times


The indigenous people of the Arctic are moving away from their traditional lands and into the cities, leaving behind century-old traditions. Over grazing, pollution, bad health and sanitation, and expansion of industries and cities throughout the Arctic threaten their lifestyles.

This is what the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)'s Global Environment Outlook report, the GEO-3, points out about indigenous people in the north.

For millennia, humans have been an integral component of the Arctic ecosystems and have relied on the biological resources for their survival and more recently market economy, for their livelihood. Today, there are about 3.75 million people living in the Arctic, of which about 10 per cent are traditional indigenous peoples. For example, the Saami of Scandinavia and north-western Russia have traditionally engaged in reindeer herding. In recent years, however, overgrazing and competition for land has become a serious problem. In North America, Greenland and Arctic Russia, indigenous peoples have relied on caribou, seals, and water birds, but over-hunting is putting several wildlife populations at risk.

In North America, there have been attempts to avoid creating permanent settlements around mines and oil fields by using shift workers rather than moving families north.

Throughout most of the Arctic, however, people continue to live in small settlements of a few hundred to a few thousand. During the 1950s and 1960s, government policies throughout the Arctic led to consolidation of small settlements into larger towns in order to efficiently and cost-effectively deliver health care, education, electricity, and modern housing, and other administrative and social services.

Permafrost and the cold climate present serious challenges to waste disposal and sanitation in all Arctic communities and particularly to the indigenous dwellers, as the breakdown and recycling of nutrients is much slower at low temperatures. While larger cities have sewage systems, many smaller communities throughout the Arctic have yet to provide all their citizens with some form of sewage treatment or septic system. Many settlements throughout the Russian Arctic have no indoor plumbing.

Pollutants generated by industries can affect people living further north. A study in Canada for example showed levels of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in maternal blood of indigenous peoples were 3-10 times higher in northern Canada where marine mammals are consumed than in southern Canada. This raises concern over levels of marine pollution and accumulation of POPs in the food chain.

For further reading:
The Northern Sea Route and Local Communities in
Northwest Russia: Social Impact Assessment for the
Murmansk Region.
GLOBIO Global Methodology for Mapping Human Impacts on the Biosphere, Environment Information and Assessment Technical Report
CAFF (2001)