The Arctic Svalbard Seed Vault is designed to safeguard the seeds of 820,619 plants in the event of massive environmental catastrophe, disease, a nuclear war, or an asteroid impact. Sadly, the ongoing civil war in Syria has caused the first-ever withdrawal of its precious contents.

The Syrian Civil War, a conflict that has been raging for four years and six months, has resulted in the deaths of over a quarter million people, instigated a refugee crisis in Europe, and set the stage for the so-called Islamic State. It’s estimated that 11 million Syrians have been driven from their homes.

The situation in Syria is practically apocalyptic, as these satellite images attest. This animation shows an 83% decrease in nighttime illumination from March 2011 to February 2014. (Credit: #WithSyria)

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Now, as Reuters reports, the war has prompted the first documented withdrawal of seeds from the “doomsday” Svalbard Seed Vault:

The seeds, including samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to dry regions, have been requested by researchers...in the Middle East to replace seeds in a gene bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo that has been damaged by the war.

“Protecting the world’s biodiversity in this manner is precisely the purpose of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault,” said Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for the Crop Trust, which runs the underground storage on a Norwegian island 1,300 km (800 miles) from the North Pole.

[…]

The Aleppo seed bank has kept partly functioning, including a cold storage, despite the conflict. But it was no longer able to maintain its role as a hub to grow seeds and distribute them to other nations, mainly in the Middle East.

The seeds were requested by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), which moved its headquarters to Beirut from Aleppo three years ago on account of the war. The institute is asking for almost 130 boxes out of the 325 it had contributed to the vault, which totals 116,000 individual samples. An expert from the Norwegian Agriculture Ministry says the seeds will be sent once the paperwork is complete.

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According to the NWM, seed samples in the Vault remain the property of the gene banks that deposit them, and regional gene banks exist to ensure that seed samples are available to farmers, researchers, and processors in accordance with international regulations.

[ Reuters ]


Email the author at george@io9.com and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image: Landbruks- og matdepartementet CC BY-SA 2.0