Icelandic Hiking Association Opposes Paving Highland Road

Kjölur highland road

The Icelandic Hiking Association (FÍ) adamantly opposes paving the Kjölur road (F35) which cuts across Iceland’s mostly uninhabited highland region. Five Independence Party MPs have put forth a parliamentary resolution that would entail paving the 168km-long road that cuts across Iceland’s remote interior from north to south. According to FÍ, paving the road would increase traffic and negatively impact the experience of visitors, who seek out the region precisely because it is off the beaten path.

Independence Party MP Njáll Trausti Friðbertsson introduced the resolution, alongside four additional MPs belonging to the same party. Currently, most highland roads are impassable for the largest part of the year due to snow in wintertime and flooding in spring. The Kjölur road is already one of the more popular roads in the region as its river crossings are bridged and it does not require a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Paving the Kjölur road would mean it could be kept open throughout most of the year, increasing the region’s accessibility. According to the parliamentary proposal, this would benefit tourism companies as well as countryside businesses and residents.

Founded in 1927, the Icelandic Hiking Association is the country’s largest and oldest travel association. In its statement, the institution opposes building up roads in the region, asserting they should be repaired and maintained as “good summer roads […] not least in terms of nature conservation and tourist safety.” FÍ adds: “The region’s attraction lies mainly in the unique and diverse nature but no less in the absence of man-made structures and crowds.”

Immigrants Rate Mental Health Lower than Native-Born Icelanders

Fiskur Útgerð Frystihús

Immigrants’ mental health is noticeably worse than natives’ in Iceland. Unemployment, financial insecurity, and loneliness are likely major factors, according to the authors of a labour market study that asked workers in Iceland to rate their mental health. The authors call for targeted measures to prevent immigrants’ poor mental health from becoming a long-term problem.

The study was conducted by labour market research institute Varða and Margrét Einarsdóttir was the lead author. The aim of the research was to examine the differences in self-rated mental health among workers in Iceland during COVID-19 in relation to their immigration status. “Unemployment, financial insecurity, and loneliness are all known risk factors for mental illness. It can be assumed that COVID-19 measures have hit immigrants harder than natives in relation to these factors, while at the same time affecting their mental health,” the study abstract states.

Over 22% of Locals and 34% of Immigrants Have Poor Mental Health

Respondents were asked to state their country of origin and were divided into two groups: those who were born in Iceland and those who had another country of origin. They were asked how many times in the last 14 days they had experienced nine different mental symptoms. “The results show a significant difference depending on immigration status and that mental health is noticeably worse among immigrants,” the study abstract states. More immigrants than natives stated they experienced almost all of the nine symptoms on an almost daily basis. When it came to overall mental health, 34.9% of immigrants measured as having poor mental health while 22.3% of native-born respondents did.

The abstract noted that immigrant’s financial situation was generally worse than that of native-born respondents and they face 3-4 times higher unemployment rates. The study’s authors concluded that authorities must take measures to address the issue. “Immigrants’ access to mental health services, their job security, and their earnings must be ensured.” The data was compiled from 8,461 responses.

Up to 35% of State-Owned Íslandsbanki For Sale

Icelandic state-owned bank Íslandsbanki launched its share offering at 9.00am this morning. The bank will sell up to 35% of its share capital in the initiative, which stands until June 15, following which all its shares will be listed on Nasdaq Iceland (the Icelandic stock exchange). Two foreign investment companies and two local pension funds are said to be the cornerstone investors in the initiative. RÚV reported first.

Government Moves to Reduce State Ownership

Of Iceland’s three largest banks, just one (Arion Bank) is privately owned. The other two are in state ownership (Íslandsbanki, currently at 100% and Landsbankinn at 98.2% state ownership). Iceland’s current governing coalition prioritised reducing state ownership of financial institutions in the government agreement made at the beginning of its term. A sale of part of Íslandsbanki was discussed earlier in the term but side-lined during the pandemic as conditions for the sale were not considered favourable. Government officials have argued that the sale could free up funds for investment in essential infrastructure.

Read More: Sale of State-Owned Banks

A notice on Íslandsbanki’s website states that the bank’s estimated market value following the offering is ISK 150 billion ($1.24 billion/€1 billion). The aim is to sell over 636 million shares, the suggested retail price of which is between ISK 71 and 79 per share. The offering will take place both through a public offering of shares to institutional investors and retail investors in Iceland and through a private placement to specific institutional investors in various other jurisdictions.

Four Key Investors

Foreign investment funds have already committed to buying in the bank, according to Íslandsbanki. Funds managed by Capital World Investors have committed to purchasing nearly 77 million shares while RWC Asset Management LLP has committed to purchasing nearly 31 million shares. Icelandic pension funds Gildi-lífeyrissjóður and Lífeyrissjóður verzlunarmanna have also committed to buying more than 46 million shares each. These four parties are said to be the cornerstone investors in the offering.

East Iceland to Open First Local University

east Iceland university Reyðarfjörður Egilsstaðir

Residents of East Iceland will be able to pursue university studies locally for the first time next year thanks to a program being jointly developed by Reykjavík University and the University of Akureyri. Instruction will take place in the town of Reyðarfjörður and will emphasise on-site teaching of technical subjects rather than distance learning. Local industry representatives say there is a need for university-educated staff in technical disciplines. RÚV reported first.

Reykjavík University will already begin offering preparatory studies for higher education in East Iceland this autumn, with university-level studies set to be offered starting in 2022. The program is being set up in collaboration with the University of Akureyri (located in North Iceland), continuing education centre Austurbrú, and representatives from the local business community, including the seafood and aluminium industries, two of the region’s main employers. While West and North Iceland have offered local university studies for some time, such higher education has not been available in the eastern region.

“The supply of distance learning has increased greatly in recent years and that is very positive. But Reykjavík University has always had the unique position of prioritising on-site learning, focusing on group projects, focusing on very direct connections with instructors and teachers, with the business community, and thus building their knowledge and knowledge within the community without having to leave the area,” Ari Kristinn Jónsson, Rector of Reykjavík University, stated. “This is something we have done elsewhere in the country and it has succeeded brilliantly and we look forward to seeing it thrive, grow, and prosper here in East Iceland.”

The seafood industry and Alcoa’s Fjarðaál aluminium factory are two of the region’s main employers, and both industries require staff with technical training at the university level. Several local businesses have founded a joint scholarship to support students in the program. “It’s very important for us who are running large companies here in the east to get this education in the area.” Dagmar Ýr Stefánsdóttir, Communications and Social Affairs Director at Alcoa-Fjarðarál, stated.

Hellisheiði Road Closed Tomorrow

Route One over Hellisheiði heath.

A section of Route 1 between Reykjavík and Hveragerði will be closed tomorrow in both directions for paving, RÚV reports. The road over Hellisheiði will be closed from 9.00am to 8.00pm tomorrow for the paving of its easternmost section. Traffic will be directed to detour via Þrengslavegur (Route 39).

The road was initially scheduled for paving today but the work has been delayed due to weather.