Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,
I welcome the opportunity to address you here in Siglufjörður at this Symposium on Mitigative Measures against Snow Avalanches and Other Rapid Gravity Mass Flows.
The Symposium is very valuable for our Icelandic experts in this hazardous field. I hope it will prove to be of benefit for other participants as well.
After the two catastrophic avalanches in two small towns in the north-west of Iceland in the year 1995 a great emphasis has been placed on increasing the safety of the inhabitants of avalanche-prone municipalities in Iceland. Important steps were taken to strengthen the administration and involvement of the government, i.e.:
- Municipalities were required to secure protection from avalanches and landslides.
- The Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources was given responsibility for the administration in the field of avalanches and landslides. A new Avalanche and Landslide Committee was established under the Ministry and a new Avalanche and Landslide Fund
was also established with considerable revenues.
- The Icelandic Meteorological Office (IMO) was given responsibility for research and
advice on preventive measures, hazard zoning, regular snow observations and hazard
These steps and the construction projects already completed have been vital in increasing the safety of the inhabitants of various avalanche-prone communities and making it possible for them to prosper further.
Great emphasis has also been on capacity-building within IMO and by various consultants and contractors. We are grateful for all the international research projects with a great input from scientists from other countries such as Norway, Switzerland, France and Austria. These projects have contributed to the build-up of expertise in avalanche science in Iceland. However, I want to emphasize the role of our IMO. The IMO and its staff is a key player in monitoring the natural hazards here in Iceland at all hours, giving advice to the government and warning our citizens when appropriate. Their work is highly valued. It does not come as a surprise that the IMO comes second after the Icelandic Coast Guard when people are asked which institution they trust the most, with a total score of 85%.
Hazard zoning has been completed in 23 communities in total, resulting in protection measures to be undertaken in 15 communities, one of them being this one here; Siglufjörður. I am happy to inform you that some steps have been taken in all 15 communities. However several projects of vital importance remain to be completed in 9 communities. The total effort is now estimated to be around 40 billion ISK with the remaining costs to be at around 19 billion ISK. The annual expenditures decided by our Althing will determine the time it will take to complete the remaining protective measures.
Preparatory work is in progress regarding hazard assessment for other natural hazards such as eruptions, which we are quite acquainted with, and river and ocean floods. This was made possible by changes in the Act on protective measures against avalanches and landslides allowing funds for this use. My vision for the future of these matters in our country is that all the different types of natural hazards will be dealt with under one single legislation, concentrating effort and pulling together resources for the protection of lives and livelihood in our beautiful - but often harsh - country.
The number of foreign guests visiting the country has multiplied over the course of a very few years. In 2018, 2,2 million guests – more than six times the population of Iceland – visited us, and the vast majority of them came here to experience Icelandic nature. It is therefore important that we perform various hazard assessments, relying on the expertise and the valuable knowledge of our scientists so, protective measures can be taken to minimise casualties of inhabitants and our guests.
The Icelandic people are aware of the fact that Iceland is a country with various natural hazards, hence the government of Iceland understanding the great importance of monitoring these hazards and the vital role of the IMO and scientists monitoring and doing research in the field of natural hazards.
I hope you all have a fruitful Symposium!