The Westfjords of Iceland may be considered one of the world’s top-ten places to visit (Lonely Planet); but they are also often regarded one of the least desirable places to live, if ones asks the average man-on-the street in Reykjavik. Now the government has stepped in promising to help protect communities in the unique and beautiful region.
Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir this Friday introduced a plan of action to help people living the Westfjords and stem the region’s long and serious depopulation problem. The plans include changes to education and welfare in the northwest of Iceland. The PM told parliament she is very concerned about the region’s employment situation and depopulation, RUV reported.
The Westfjords region has the lowest unemployment rate in the country; but this is partly explained by the fact that a lot of unemployed people simply leave. The region is also considered to be over-reliant on fisheries.
The Westfjords unemployment rate proportionately increased in February more than anywhere else in Iceland, leading the government to worry about residents moving away. The new government plan is intended to turn the situation round.
In addition to the plan, Prime Minister Sigurdardottir announced that the government will hold a meeting in the Westfjords next week — something that rarely happens outside of Reykjavik. The government has only ever held meetings outside the capital at Thingvellir national park and once in Akureyri. Part of the Westfjords meeting will be to allow ministers to meet locals and discuss their needs and aspirations.
The projects are set to be similar to another action launched to help the Sudurnes region near Reykjavik last year and will focus largely on educational and welfare issues.
Westfjordians have long been calling for changes to the national fishing quota system which they say will help the region. And although the new plan does not cover fisheries, Sigurdardottir said that a new fishing bill is due to come to parliament in the very near future.
Westfjords MP Einar K. Gudfinnsson welcomed the project, but added that it seems like a government about-turn after several painful public spending cuts were aimed at the region threatening the future of both the university and hospital in Isafjordur, among other services.