The doomsday seed vault – described by its creators as the "final backup" of the world's crop collections – is making its first withdrawal less than 10 years after it opened because of the civil war in Syria.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located 800 miles from the North Pole on a Norwegian island, stores more than 850,000 seed samples from all over the globe to safeguard the Earth's food supply and biodiversity, according to National Public Radio
"We did not expect retrieval this early," said Brian Lainoff, a spokesman for Crop Trust which runs the seed vault. "But [we] knew in 2008 that Syria was in for an interesting couple of years. This is why we urged them to deposit so early on."
Researchers have requested samples of wheat, barley and grasses suited to the dry regions of Syria and other locations in the Middle East to replace seeds in a gene bank near the Syrian town of Aleppo that has been heavily damaged by the ongoing war, reported Reuters
Grethe Evjen, an expert at the Norwegian Agriculture Ministry, said the seeds had been requested by the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas, which moved its home to Beirut from Aleppo in 2012 because of the war's violence.
ICARDA asked for nearly 130 boxes out of 325 it had deposited in the vault, containing a total of 116,000 samples, said Evjen.
Now in its fourth year, the Syrian civil war has killed an estimated 250,000 people while driving more than 11 million from their homes, with 7.6 million displaced inside the country, said Reuters.
Norway built the seed vault at a cost of $9 million.Its cold climate and permafrost location makes the area an ideal spot for safe underground storage of seeds, according to the vault's website
"Food security is a challenge in many developing countries," said Crop Trust. "Crop diversity is the resource to which plant breeders must turn to develop varieties that can withstand pests, diseases and remain productive in the face of changing climates. It will therefore underpin the world food supply."
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