ROME, April 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Each time Ida
Ophaug sees condolence messages posted on Facebook, her first
thought and fear is another suicide.
"I get so relieved when I find out it was an avalanche or a
car accident," said the 26-year-old Norwegian, a member of
Scandinavia's indigenous Sami people.
Sami people, like other Arctic indigenous populations, have
long struggled with high suicide rates, but the impact of global
warming is worsening the problem, young Sami members said on
Friday at a meeting of indigenous youth hosted by the United
Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The traditional way of life herding reindeer is under
pressure, as rising temperatures threaten the size of the herds
and cause financial woes, they said.
Adding to the money troubles, the fear of being the last
bearers of a fading culture has instilled pessimism in many
young Sami, said Ophaug.
"You have the weight of the heritage that you are carrying
after your parents and grandparents," she said. "Many people
feel the pressure of that".
An estimated 80,000 Sami live in the northern lands of
Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia, where reindeer herding has
been the cornerstone of their culture and livelihood.
But less chilly winters mean less snow and more rain that
can freeze into ice, making it harder for reindeer to reach the
plants they need to eat. Some reindeer starve, and females often
give birth to stunted young.
"It causes a lot of economical damage to families because
they lose many animals," Ophaug told the Thomson Reuters
Foundation on the sidelines of the FAO conference.
Arctic temperatures are rising faster than the world average
amid a build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
With mental health is a taboo topic in Sami culture, many
youths do not seek help, Ophaug said.
"It's becoming worse because of climate change," she said.
Gathering data on Sami suicides is difficult, experts said.
In Norway, ethnicity is not listed in government statistics,
said Siv Kvernmo, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry
at the Arctic University of Norway.
In Sweden, a 2013 study found young Sami were more likely to
contemplate suicide than other young Swedes.
But anecdotal evidence is powerful, said Petra Laiti of
Finland, also a member of the U.N. Global Indigenous Youth
"Everyone has a relative in their large families or a
friend" who has died by suicide, she said.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ellen
Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)