In the barren permafrost of the Svalbard Archipelago, 1,300 kilometres from the North Pole, a doomsday vault has opened its doors for the first time.
Buried 120 metres within a perpetually frozen sandstone mountain on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault acts as a global agricultural backup — storing over 800,000 duplicates of vital seed samples from gene banks around the world in case of natural disaster, war, or other large-scale threats to biodiversity. The facility was designed from the ground up for this purpose. If the power were to fail today, the vault would remain sealed and secure for 200 years.
The brutal display of extremism, autocracy, and cynical neocolonialism currently on show in Syria has led to over 11 million souls fleeing for their lives; and the scale of the conflict is such that it has also prompted the first ever withdrawal from the Svalbard Seed Vault.
The International Gene Bank of Syria (ICARDA), located near the Syrian city of Aleppo, acts as a storage, growth, and distribution gene bank for the region. Due to its location and efforts, many of the samples it has donated to Svalbard are vital to global sustainable agriculture — resistant as they are to drought and other adverse weather conditions that can otherwise spell certain death for crops, especially in poorer parts of the world.
Hampered in its functioning by the war, ICARDA recently had no choice but to turn to the Nordic seed vault and request a little over 100,000 of its samples be returned for continued research and replication in its other locations in Lebanon and Morocco.
And lest this begins to sound like the Syrian seed bank is some sort of charity case, it should be noted that this is exactly what the facility in Svalbard is for; all seed samples there remain the property of the donors; duplicates of the withdrawn samples will be returned to Svalbard; and ICARDA is tough as nails — despite the ongoing hellscape in Syria over the past few years, the gene bank has not once ceased in its replication efforts, recently receiving a prestigious international prize for managing to send over 80% of its unique seed samples to the frozen Norwegian vault. While in the middle of a goddamn war.
I don’t know about you guys, but it’s good to know that even amidst of one of the worst human disasters in recent memory some people are still doing absolutely incredible work. Even if most of us here are probably just sat watching that Star Wars trailer on repeat.