Russian North’s dilemma: develop or disappear

They are two of the world’s most-northerly inhabited areas, geographically and physically very similar. But while Hummerfest in Norway is a thriving hub, Teriberka in northern Russia is becoming a ghost town.

Murmansk region is 2,000 kilometers from Moscow, and is home to Russia's Arctic naval fleet and nuclear-powered icebreakers. Rich in natural resources, it has one of the world's largest natural gas fields.

But its million-plus population is seriously on the wane, as young people leave in search of better opportunities elsewhere.

“My father used to live here too, but not now,” says Pavel Nikolaevich, a local villager. “My mother is here. She’s a pensioner. My brother left. He said there was nothing for him to do in this village. And there really isn’t much to do here.”

The local school makes the most of the isolated tundra. But local businesses have suffered a downward economic spiral.

“At present our population is very low, therefore there is little demand for our meat and diary goods,” claims another local, Nadezhda Konik.

But there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. And it lies 550 km from Teriberka’s shoreline. Known as the Shtockman Fields, it is an area thought to hold up to 20 per cent of the world’s intact gas and oil resources. Currently there are proposed plans to build a gas plant in the village. But at first the locals were strongly against the idea, where their traditional fishing village will be swallowed by a large development.

So what change do the villagers’ not object to? Promises of new facilities, including housing and better schools, better education for their children as well as the creation of jobs. These have all helped the village of Teriberka to warm to the idea of a new gas plant.

In fact, it was the construction of a gas plant similar to the one proposed to Teriberka that turned around the fate of Hummerfest, and some of the Teriberka locals were taken there to witness the effects first hand. They were excited by what they saw.

“When we went to Hummerfest, we couldn’t believe how much it looked like our village,” recalls Nadezhda Konik. “Everything: the weather, the views. But their standard of living was so good, now we are really hoping for the same.”

However some people remain skeptical.

“I think that the project will be good for us, but we have had many hopes for a bright future over the years,” states another villager. “There’s been a lot of disappointment. And there is a lack of belief that things can really approve.”

Whether or not the plant goes ahead without change, the village of Teriberka could soon become nothing more than a memory.