Indigenous peoples of the Russian Arctic

Entire communities threatened by the pandemic and the thawing permafrost (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) is deeply concerned about the mining of raw materials in the Arctic, in Siberia, and the far east of Russia – which is increasing rapidly, despite the danger of global warming. Further, due to thawing permafrost soils, tanks and pipelines are becoming a threat that can hardly be controlled. In addition, the frequently changing workforces at construction sites and at oil and gas production facilities are carrying the coronavirus into the remote indigenous areas. "For the Russian government, the profit from raw material extraction in the region is obviously more important than the survival of the often impoverished people there," criticized Yvonne Bangert, STP expert on indigenous peoples. "For the indigenous peoples in the region, the situation is extremely dangerous. Medical care has been cut back considerably in recent years, and there is almost nothing that could stop the virus from spreading." In hastily established field hospitals, the virus can spread even further because care workers are often not protected. "The indigenous communities are barely able to feed themselves because the quarantine regulations prevent them from reaching their traditional hunting and fishing grounds. Bartering is also very difficult, due to the restrictions on mobility," Bangert stated.

Climate change is already leading to environmental disasters, especially since the environmental regulations and safety standards have obviously been treated laxly. It was only on May 29 of this year that a diesel tank of the raw materials company Norilsk Nickel had burst, thus contaminating large parts of the waters on which the local fishermen of the indigenous Nenets and Dolgans are dependent. As the permafrost soils continue to thaw as climate change progresses, more and more accidents of this kind are to be expected. According to Bangert, it was an important signal that the Deutsche Bank had recently announced that it would no longer finance oil and gas production projects in the Arctic. "This must now be followed by the realization that the exploitation of raw materials in this fragile ecosystem is always fraught with massive risks," Bangert added. Indigenous peoples are especially affected by these risks, as their traditional way of life was adapted to this ecosystem over thousands of years – and is therefore just as fragile."

Meanwhile, the Russian indigenous network Aboriginal Forum, which brings together 42 independent experts, leaders, and indigenous organizations from 21 regions of the Russian Arctic, Siberia, and the Far East, has reported increasing coronavirus outbreaks around oil and gas production facilities. On May 11, a total number of 2,045 people were officially registered as infected in the workers' camp of a liquefied gas facility of the Novatek group near the village of Belokamenka in the Murmansk district, with a total of 2,416 infected people living in the district. The STP had already reported an outbreak at a construction site in the same region in April. Novatek is building a factory that is supposed to produce drilling platforms for natural gas production in the Arctic Ocean.

A month ago, the STP published a comprehensive report on indigenous peoples in the Arctic, caught between climate change and the raw materials boom. The report can be downloaded here.