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Expecting more accidents

A guide fell into a crevasse in April 2014. The other tour mates kept him on the rope until they were rescued by the Governor's helicopter. The Governor of Svalbard is expecting more accidents the next years. FOTO: Timothy Galle

Expecting more accidents

The Governor of Svalbard isn't ruling out changes to how her office handles its responsibilities in the future.

The governor's recently published annual report notes, among other things, more accidents are expected, which will mean more rescue missions.

"Increased traffic is expected to result in an increase in the number of major and minor accidents, and subsequent rescue missions," the report states.

The number of rescue missions has increased slightly during the past three years, from 67 in 2013 to 74 last year. With the exception of 80 rescues in 2012, there has been a steady increase, and the trend is expected to continue as a result of increasing tourism, traffic and climate change.

"Svalbard is large and even minor accidents involving, for example, tourists on snowmobiles can trigger major resources in the form of helicopter transportation and medical evacuations to the mainland," Gov. Kjerstin Askholt states. "This development must be closely monitored and it may be necessary to increase preparedness beyond the current level."


She summarizes several factors that will affect how missions are conducted during the coming years. One is Svalbard is changing because of an uncertain future for coal mining, which until now has ensured a stable family community and been "the pillar of the Norwegian presence in the archipelago." The Norwegian's government's forthcoming revision of the "white paper" defining policy goals for Svalbard will provide answers about the road ahead and could affect the governor's responsibilities.

It is also clear changes in the industry, along with the goal of increasing tourism and education, will result in a different population structure. In addition, the trend in recent years has been a decrease in the percentage of Norwegians in the population while foreigners are increasing.

Recent figures from the Longyearbyen Community Council confirm the trend, although the numbers are small.

The result may make it necessary to change duties and staffing, and develop new legislation, the governor sates., adding it's also necessary to consider her office's methods and capacity for handling tourism issues.

Climate change

In an introductory summary of the report, Askholt also emphasizes climate change, which is resulting in a loss sea ice – and therefore he habitat for polar bears and seals – making the remaining areas more important. On land, mild weather in winter is covering vegetation with ice, which in turn has adverse consequences for huntable species such as reindeer and grouse.

"How we should manage the huntable species in a new climate regime will be a question in the future," she states.

Cultural heritage monuments are also threatened by erosion due to changes in climate.

"All of these factors come into play in the way the governor solves its tasks and can result in changed priorities in the future," Askholt states.

Translated by Mark Sabbatini

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