This Article was written by Zanelle Awinyo, year 10
Where the sun does not rise for four months in the winter. Where cats are banned. Where the government advises you to bear hunting guns at all times. In the Northernmost town in the world, it is illegal to die.
Welcome to Longyearbyen, Norway. Well known for its views of the Northern Lights or as a small coal-mining town, but infamous for its obscure laws. While we all know laws are there to protect our general safety, and ensure our rights as citizens are respected, how could making it illegal to die do any of that?
As the most populated town near the north pole, Longyearbyen is so cold that dying has been made illegal there since the 1950’s. Per island policy, dying should be prevented at all costs, even if that means always having a weapon to protect yourself. To begin with, for those of you that don’t know much about Polar bears in real life, let's just say they aren't quite like the Ice Bear from ‘We Bare Bears’.
While attacks by polar bears are uncommon, due to global warming, their interaction with
humans has increased. Between 1870 and 2014, out of 73 recorded polar bear attacks there were 20 human fatalities and 69 injuries. And while that may not seem like a lot, the numbers are steadily rising today. Furthermore, the World Wildlife Foundation stated “polar bears pose a major risk to human life and property.”
In 2012, as the world was seeing an increase in these attacks, the Governor of Svalbard created a law that required anyone travelling outside the town to have the means to scare off a polar bear. This meant that bear-ing firearms was mandatory outside settlements. Since the law was introduced, the amount of deaths in Longyearbyen, by polar bear, decreased. However, dying is still illegal to this day.
Whilst the natural cycle of life still applies to Longyearbyen, the last person that was buried in the town was left to rest in 1950. The main reason for this? Why another pandemic of course! The 1918 flu pandemic to be more precise.
More commonly known as the Spanish Flu or Great Influenza Epidemic, much like the Covid-19 virus, the H1N1 Influenza A-virus was an exceptionally deadly global virus. Before its end in April 1920, the virus had claimed 50 million lives and 500 million cases had been reported in the time it was active.
Even as one of the most isolated northernmost towns at the time, Longyearbyen was not spared during the pandemic. So when scientists discovered that due to permafrost the bodies of town members who passed during the 1918 flu pandemic had not decomposed 32 years later in the 1950’s, concerns that active strains of the virus arose. It was then made illegal to bury any bodies in Longyearbyen with the fear of disturbing the strains through the soil.