In this September 2006 file photo, ice chunks float in the Arctic Ocean as the sun sets near Barrow, Alaska. Photo: AP

By Meena Menon
17 March 2013

OSLO (The Hindu) – The rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice has rejuvenated interests in the region, ranging from oil and gas and mineral exploration to the possibility of shorter sea routes and increased tourism. But all this poses fresh challenges to the survival of the Inuit and other indigenous people who live there.

While some speakers at The Arctic Summit held by The Economist on March 12 seemed to favour the line that the local people needed money just as anyone else and would welcome the chance to blow it up on fast cars and gizmos, a more studied view was put forth by Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, who was quite firm that “We don’t want the fate of the North American indigenous people.”

The council represents about 160,000 Inuits living in the Arctic region.

Mr. Lynge told The Hindu, “We are in the middle of a changing situation and we have to establish our economies. There is a new mood among the young in the Arctic region and they want better living conditions.” Living in harsh biting cold conditions, they could certainly do with lots of improvement. Many small villages have no transport or access. Yet Mr. Lynge pointed out that the Arctic people knew that if you destroyed nature, it would destroy your way of life. It would hurt if mining in Alaska would lead to influx of labour. […]

Describing the soul of the Arctic as unique and strong, he said development did not mean everyone aspired to be billionaires. “It’s important for the world to realise we also need to survive,” he said. The Arctic Council was a means of international cooperation and the only instrument which could set international standards on navigation, and oil drilling and the eight Arctic nations were working closely together. Of the over four million people living in the region, some 700,000 to 800,000 were indigenous people. With climate change, traditional means of livelihood were being hit. “There are new fish species in abundance but they are not ready to be used in the fishing industry,” he said. “The market for marine mammals has collapsed and now certain groups are not allowing us to sell seal skin,” he lamented.

The ecological balance of the Arctic was also changing rapidly and the Inuits were confronting new realities. They were spread over Greenland, Canada and Far East Russia, where there were 21 different Arctic nations. […]

Jan-Gunnar Winther, Director of Norwegian Polar Institute, said: “The rapidity of the changes has taken us by surprise. We have been underestimating the changes.” Increase in shipping, energy, tourism and fishing would be a challenge for the sensitive Arctic ecosystem. “No one will want to see an oil spill. What would be the effects of local emissions from ships, and soot which can increase the ice melt” he asked. [more]

Inuits worried as they confront new realities

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