The first of three thematic pillars of the United States Chairmanship program is “Improving Economic & Living Conditions for Arctic Communities”…

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At the 9th Arctic Council ministerial meeting, held in Iqaluit, Nunavut Canada in April 2015, the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Arctic Council, formally handed the Arctic Council Chairmanship to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, chair of the Arctic Council during the U.S. Chairmanship. On this occasion, Arctic ministers adopted an ambitious new work plan organized around three thematic pillars. The first of these – improving economic & living conditions for Arctic communities – is addressed by several specific efforts to be undertaken by the Council’s working groups and task forces in the years ahead. The full suite of projects covers a variety of important focus areas that range from community-based emission control to internet access. A few of these noteworthy projects are highlighted below.

A newly formed Task Force will coordinate a circumpolar assessment of telecommunications infrastructure and networks, with the goal of delivering a completed assessment – including recommendations for public-private partnerships to enhance telecommunications access and service in the Arctic – at the 2017 ministerial meeting.

Additional work on improving economic and living conditions for Arctic communities will be completed by the Arctic Council working groups. Working group ACAP (Arctic Contaminants Action Program) will expand the reach of an existing monitoring tool across the broader Arctic, to create a Circumpolar Local Environmental Observer (CLEO) network. ACAP will facilitate the creation of a North American chapter of CLEO, and will develop a framework for future expansion of the network to the Nordic and Russian regions. The CLEO network will, among other goals, help researchers obtain better information on sources of contaminants that may be impacting indigenous Arctic communities.

Two important initiatives undertaken by SDWG (the Sustainable Development Working Group) will also support improved living conditions in Arctic communities. The first focuses on the critical nexus of water, sanitation and public health at the community level. It will bring together researchers, engineers, manufacturers, vendors and health experts to identify solutions that bring in-home water and sewer access to remote communities across the Arctic.  It will also identify the concrete health gains that can be realized from deploying such solutions. A second project, called “RISING SUN” (Reducing the Incidence of Suicide in Indigenous Groups – Strengthens United through Networks), aims to create common metrics for evaluating suicide prevention efforts in the Arctic. To arrive at such metrics, health officials in the Arctic Council member states, Permanent Participants, community groups, and mental wellness practitioners will work together to assess key measurement indicators for suicide prevention programs. The metrics will help identify success stories and ongoing challenges, and allow for collaboration between communities and health service systems to address this pressing circumpolar issue.

Working Group EPPR (Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response) will at the same time undertake a project on prevention, preparedness and response for small communities, the goal of which is to equip remote communities with guidance on best practices for prevention, preparedness and response to natural incidents (such as flooding, avalanches, severe weather effects, etc.), oil spills, and accidental releases of radioactive isotopes.

This is a small sample of the work planned by the Arctic Council for the next two years to support the goal of improving economic & living conditions for Arctic communities. A more complete picture can be found in the Senior Arctic Officials’ Report to Ministers from the Iqaluit 2015 ministerial meeting. Click here to read the full report.

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Get to know all six Arctic Council Working Groups: ACAPAMAPCAFFEPPRPAME and SDWG.

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Photo caption: John F. Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State, The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister for the Arctic Council, and The Honourable Robert Nicholson, Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada meet with Inuit residents in Iqaluit, April 2015.