While the Antarctic is uninhabited, the Arctic has 3.75 million permanent
residents, according to the Arctic Council. Most settlements have remained
modest in size, with populations of less than 5 000 people. The vast majority
of Arctic residents today are nonindigenous immigrants. This shift in
demographic make-up has been accompanied by a steady increase in urbanization,
with migration from smaller settlements to larger urban settings, a general
trend throughout the Arctic (see box).
|Urban growth in the Arctic
Greenland has experienced urban growth since the 1970s (Rasmussen
and Hamilton 2001). Roughly one-quarter of Greenland's population
lives in Nuuk, the capital. This concentration of the urban population
in one city is found in other Arctic countries: 40 per cent of Iceland's
growing population lives in Reykjavik, onethird of the Faroe Islands'
people lives in Torshavn, and almost 40 per cent of the population
of Canada's Northwest Territories' lives in Yellowknife.
Anchorage in Alaska is the only North American Arctic city with
a population of more than 100 000. The rapidly growing population
of Anchorage reached 262 200 in 2001, while the population of the
next largest city of Arctic Alaska, Fairbanks, declined slightly
over the past decade to 30 500.
Norway has pursued a policy of discouraging migration from its
northern counties, providing significant support to stimulate jobs,
industry, higher education and research in the North. While this
policy has not stemmed the decline in small settlements, Tromsų,
the largest city in the Scandinavian Arctic, grew to 49 600 in 2001
despite its location at nearly 70° N.
On the other hand, North America attempted to avoid permanent settlements
around mines and oil fields by using shift workers rather than moving
families north. Facilities were deliberately located away from indigenous
villages, and since the 1980s agreements and partnerships have been developed
with indigenous organizations to reduce environmental and social impacts,
and to increase local employment (Osherenko and Young 1989).
The Russian Federation has 11 cities with populations of more than 200
000 above 60° N (Weir 2001). All grew around resource exploitation, including
fishing, wood processing, mining and fuel extraction (CIA 1978). The population
of Murmansk, Russia's only ice-free port in the Arctic, grew to 440 000
in 1989. Economic incentives were used to attract people to work in extractive
industries in the Russian north, accompanied by the development of urban
centres with multi-story apartment blocks, built on permafrost with few
or no road or railway connections.
Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the influx into the Russian Arctic
has begun to reverse. Following market reforms, contraction of social
safety nets, reduced government subsidies, devaluation of the currency
and general economic decline in post- Soviet Russia, cities have been
unable to support large populations. In the formerly prosperous coal-mining
city of Vorkuta, coal production recently dropped to only 2 per cent of
what it had been 10 years earlier, the municipal budget had a 100 per
cent deficit and the population declined by nearly 30 000 (Weir 2001,
World Gazetteer 2001). Tens of thousands left cities such as Norilsk and
Murmansk between 1989 and 2001, and in some places the population declined
by more than 50 per cent. The Russian Government - with World Bank assistance
- provided housing credits and other aid to those seeking to relocate
from the Arctic (Weir 2001, World Gazetteer 2001).
The rapid growth of the Arctic population (see 'The
socio-economic background') and its increasing concentration in urban
settlements has significant implications for the fragile ecosystems of
the north. The pressures of urbanization in the Arctic are comparable
to those elsewhere but are magnified by the challenges of the climate
and remoteness. For example, with winter temperatures dipping as low as
-60°C in parts of the Arctic, and with an almost continuous state of darkness
for months on end, per capita energy use is very large, adding to the
pollution burden of the Arctic. Except for Iceland, which has thermal
power, urban centres rely on diesel fuel, hydroelectric or nuclear power.
Road networks are expanding and this is leading to increased land use
conflicts with wildlife and indigenous people. Habitat fragmentation and
sanitation and waste disposal pose perhaps the greatest urban environmental