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Fewer toddlers

The number of kindergarteners has decreased dramatically in Svalbard in recent years. There are differing opinions about the cause FOTO: Christopher Engås

Fewer toddlers

The number of kindergartens in Longyearbyen has dropped nearly 40 percent in three years.



30.09.2016 kl 16:12

Svalbard's population has increased slightly during the past year, with 13 more people in the settlements of Longyearbyen, Ny-Ålesund and Barentsburg.

But the most notable figure in the most recent population count from Statistics Norway is the number of young children is plunging. There were 157 children ages 0-5 years in 2013, while today there are only 98 in the same age group.

A signal

The Confederation of Vocational Unions association Negotia, whose many members include Store Norske and Spitsbergen Travel, calls the decline in the number of children a signal that must be taken seriously.

"We believe the decline is likely a reflection of the cutbacks at Store Norske in recent years," said Arnfinn Korsmo, head of Negotia.

"Drastic cutbacks at a company with so many employees which engages with so many adjacent businesses has to have an impact on the population," he said.

It is not surprising families with young children is the most remarkable aspect of the recent change in population, Korsmo said. Workers with the lowest seniority are generally laid off first and they often are people with young children.

Don't totally agree
Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen (Labor Party) said he doesn't believe the change in demographics has a direct correlation with the cutbacks at Store Norske.

"We have been following this over time," he said. "We have seen that the parents of children who have moved have not been affiliated with Store Norske or affiliated businesses. We also followed the development of the school and there the number of students actually increased."

"Obviously there are some who have moved as a consequence of Store Norske, but it is not the main cause of what we are seeing now. Part of the reason that downsizing has had little effect in the school and kindergartens is extensive commuting. Each employee is also at Store Norske longer than what we otherwise see in Longyearbyen. From that we can assume that there has been a natural phasing out in the school and kindergarten system due to age, and that it is being replenished with kids of people who have no connection to Store Norske."

"The last coal boat departed from Svea last week and we do not know if there will be a delayed reaction in the demographic situation. It is therefore important to monitor and take the right measures. What we see is that until now the total population figure has risen and therefore I believe that the things we've done so far have been correct."

Seeking initatives
The Longyearbyen Community Council has, among other actions, initiated major infrastructure projects to maintain the level of activity in the city during the restructuring phase. Negotia is also urging the government to take measures to remedy what they believe is a disturbing demographic trend with fewer families.

In connection with the revised Svalbard "white paper" released earlier this year, Negotia is seeking a review of customs rules in order to better facilitate the sale of products manufactured in Svalbard. The association also wants a dissolution of a mail surcharge for Svalbard, better utilization of tourism and flight communications, and an assessment of the energy situation in Longyearbyen.

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