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Climate Change in the Arctic & around the globe

“Global Contact” in the Town on the Icefjord

Ilulissat was once a small trading post. Nowadays it has 4,500 inhabitants, and the number is growing rapidly.

You can smell fish in quite a few parts of the town. Fishing is the number one industry

It happens on a commercial scale, particularly for halibut and shrimps. The town has a shrimp processing factory. The fish factory has moved further south, and people tell us the trend is increasingly towards factory ships, which process the fish as they’re caught.
Administration is the 2nd biggest employer. Ilulissat is the centre for a huge area around it, going right up to Quanaag in the far north. Tourism is the 3rd factor. It’s growing, but currently suffering from the world economic crisis. There are actually very few tourists in the town right now. The town still feels like boom-town, and the civil engineer tells me all the building work is the rush to build new houses for the growing population in the very short building season, before everything has to stop for the winter in October.

Ilulissat’s main attraction are the icebergs, floating in the fjord after breaking off from the Kangia glacier or Jakobshauen, which was the Danish name for it and the town. This is the most “productive” glacier in the northern hemisphere, discharging ice from the inland ice sheet into the sea at a tremendous rate. More about that later. The constantly changing panorama of icebergs of all different shapes and sizes creates the very special identity of Ilulissat.
The icefjord was added to UNESCO’S World Heritage List in 2004 because of its dramatic beauty and its unique glaciological characteristics. The organisation has now opened an office in the town that keeps an eye on it and supports measures to protect it – with a little help from friends like the volunteers brought here by a group called MS.

Lars from Germany and Martin from Switzerland are two of a group of 10 young people spending their summer holidays as volunteers here. They’ve helped organise a traditional music festival in one of the remote northern towns. Now they’re helping Naja Habermann, who runs the UNESCO office, to mark the hiking paths – like the one that took me along the ice fjord yesterday – which help people appreciate the natural beauty of the region without having too much of an impact on the countryside. These are the people who spend the day walking the paths and painting the markers. More power to you folks!
Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, “ms act!onaid denmark” is the ngo that brings them here, with its “global contact” programme. They come from a variety of European countries. When I asked them why they do it, Lars and Martin both told me they want to do something more meaningful than lie on a beach all summer, and they’re keen to get to know other peoples and cultures. They also see it as a unique opportunity to get to a remote region of the world they would otherwise fail to see. I asked them whether climate change was important to them, against the background of this glacier discharging icebergs at an increasing rate. While they both said this hadn’t been their reason for coming here, they are very concerned about what’s happening and feel strongly the industrialised west should reduce emissions and its footprint. Talking to young people in Greenland, they found it interesting to hear a different view here. Awareness of the problems is not so high – and some of the people they talked to were happy about being able to grow more food in southern Greenland.

Caroline (right) and Sisse are coordinating the project, both here on a voluntary basis. They’re committed to promoting intercultural dialogue and bringing young people from different backgrounds together to work on projects like protecting the world’s heritage.

“It’s a dog’s life” in Ilulissat. Sled dogs have enforced holidays at least until October.


July 30, 2009 | 11:18 am