No Births, No Deaths: Welcome to Svalbard, Norway

Longyearbyen, Svalbard.

Colorful homes in the capital of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway. (Image: Luis Leamus via Dreamstime)

Did you know there’s a place in Norway where people aren’t allowed to die or give birth? If this sounds like a make-believe place, check out our article to learn more about Svalbard, Norway.

Imagine an island where the government mandates that people aren’t allowed to give birth or die. This is true on the island of Svalbard, Norway. If this sounds at least a little bizarre, find out why this rule exists and why births and deaths aren’t allowed in Norway. Aside from learning the truth about why deaths or births aren’t allowed, find other interesting facts about this island.

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Why doesn’t Svalbard allow births or deaths?

At first glance, one would find this rule bizarre since deaths or births are hard to control. However, this island has a good reason for not allowing births or deaths within the area with a straightforward answer: the temperature and environment.

Unlike other major places, this area has a precise temperature and environment that causes permafrost. Because of this, corpses can’t decompose within the area, meaning they need to be shipped back to the mainland to be buried. It causes additional complications when a corpse doesn’t decompose, which is why Svalbard has rules about this.

When did Svalbard stop accepting deaths?

Svalbard stopped accepting newcomers in its graveyards in the 1950s because of fear that the preserved bodies could still contain sicknesses. Specifically, the town fears the bodies could still include the Spanish flu virus, which killed several miners in 1918. So basically, when someone within the area is nearing death, they would have to travel to the mainland or other locations.

A polar bear warning sign on a road in Svalbard.
A polar bear warning sign on a road in Svalbard. (Image: Wikipedia)

What about births?

The island has also decided to place rules around birth within the area. They rule that when a woman has three weeks left in her pregnancy, she must return to the mainland. However, premature births aren’t something that can always be stopped. This is why if a woman prematurely gives birth, they’ll have to deal with complicated paperwork, which can cause problems and inconveniences.

Other facts about Svalbard

There are many other exciting facts about Svalbard. Here are some of the things you should know.

1. Norwegians still need to show their passports

Even though this is part of Norway, Norwegians must still show passports to travel to the island. This means that every nationality is required to show passports, even if they are from neighboring Norwegian places.

2. Guns are required

Unlike other places where people are required not to carry guns, Svalbard requires those coming in and those inside to carry guns. In 2012, the Governor directed everyone traveling outside the settlements to bring guns to potentially scare off polar bears. Items like flare guns are highly recommended. However, people are prohibited from using weapons inside settlements.

3. Polar bears and people coexist

Although fluctuating, it is believed that Svalbard has around 2,500 people living there, with most settling in Longyearbyen, its capital. However, the real natives of the island are considered to be polar bears, whose numbers have reached 3,000.

4. Svalbard has seven of Norway’s 47 national parks

Svalbard is home to seven out of the 47 total national parks of Norway. This comes as 6 percent of the island’s land is protected. Here are the names of the seven national parks.

  • Forlandet
  • Indre Wijdefjorden
  • Nordenskiöld Land
  • Nordre Isfjorden
  • Nordvest-Spitsbergen
  • Sassen-Bünsow Land
  • Sør-Spitsbergen
The Svalbard seed vault.
The Svalbard seed vault. A temperature of −18°C is required for optimal storage of the seeds. Permafrost and thick rock ensure that the seed samples will remain frozen even without power. (Image: Rafal Nebelski via Dreamstime)

5. Svalbard is classified as a desert

Although it’s hard to imagine an icy desert, this is precisely Svalbard’s classification. The island has rock, ice, cold temperatures, and low humidity. It is even considered an “arctic desert,” with dry air as one would experience in a “hot” desert.

6. Northern lights in the day

While the northern lights are already rare, Svalbard adds to this rarity by allowing you to see the northern lights during the day. Since the area is so far north, the sun doesn’t rise for four months during winter.

7. It is home to a global seed vault

A seed vault in Svalbard safeguards duplicates of 1,214,827 seed samples from almost every country globally, with room for millions more. Its purpose is to store duplicates (backups) of seed samples from the world’s crop collections to safeguard against catastrophic loss.

In summary

Svalbard is one of the most exciting places in Norway. Aside from its laws not allowing deaths or births, it also has some unique rules, like no other settlement.

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