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May 27, 2011
Arctic Health: Challenges and Responses to Rapid Climate, Environmental, and Social Change
A meeting of leading international health experts and indigenous leaders from the Far North was hosted by the Dickey Center for International Understanding and its Institute of Arctic Studies on May 23-25, 2011, to discuss the effects of rapid environmental and social change on the health and social institutions of peoples living in the North. An interdisciplinary group of twenty-five prominent scientists, physicians, policy experts, and indigenous leaders were invited to Dartmouth to share their expertise on the rapidly changing health conditions in the Arctic and make recommendations to improve health care delivery and promote the wellness of individuals and communities.
“The Dickey Center has taken a leadership role in fostering high-level dialogs to improve understanding of the interdisciplinary science and policy issues facing the Arctic. One of the most critical issues is how rapid environmental change is putting the health and social institutions of indigenous peoples under tremendous stress,” said Ambassador Kenneth S. Yalowitz, Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth, and co-chair of the University of the Arctic’s Institute for Applied Circumpolar Policy.
The invited experts discussed the complexity of interacting factors such as warming temperatures, melting ice, a colonial legacy, and geographical remoteness that have conspired to create environmental and social conditions that impact the health of individuals and communities living in the Arctic. Epidemiological evidence shows infectious diseases and vectors previously only seen in warmer climates are moving north with serious effects on people and wildlife. A decline in traditional food sources, such as walrus and seal, due to climate change and the diet substitution of less nutritious and expensive market foods has led to an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Indigenous leaders and social scientists report that the resulting community and social disruption has led to an increased need for mental health and addiction services, particularly among young men. Studies of soil and water contamination from industrial activity show increased arsenic and mercury contamination of food and water sources creating uncertainty regarding what is safe to eat.
“Despite these serious challenges Arctic communities are resilient and new partnerships between scientists and communities are focused on building more local capacity and control over health care and wellness programs,” says Ross Virginia, Director of Dartmouth’s Institute of Arctic Studies.
Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim addressed the conference as did Provost Carol Folt, and Dr. Albert G. Mulley, Jr., Director of the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science.
Seven of the eight member states of the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body that coordinates cooperation between the countries bordering the Arctic [Canada, Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States] were represented at the meeting. This was the fourth conference of the UArctic’s Institute for Applied Circumpolar Policy, which is co-chaired by Dartmouth College and the University of Alaska Fairbanks. A previous IACP conference, co-hosted with the Carnegie Endowment, was held at Dartmouth in 2009 to discuss Arctic security issues resulting from climate change.
A conference report that includes a summary of the discussions as well as recommendations for action will be published in Fall 2011 and widely distributed to governmental policy makers and non-governmental organizations worldwide.
The conference was generously supported at Dartmouth by the Dickey Center for International Understanding and the Office of the Dean of Faculty, and by the Canadian Consulate of New England, The University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Kane Lodge Foundation. The University of the Arctic is an international cooperative network of universities, colleges and other organizations that promote education and research in the North.
For more information, please contact the Institute of Arctic Studies at 603-646-1278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.