- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The four-year civil war in Syria has so severely devastated the region that scientists have had to make the first ever withdrawal from the “doomsday bank,” a giant vault in the Arctic that contains seeds meant to protect the world’s food supply in the event of a disaster.

Researchers in the Middle East have asked for seeds including wheat, barley and grasses, which tend to thrive in dry conditions, Reuters reported.

Under normal conditions, researchers would request seeds form a similar bank in Aleppo, but that center 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, Reuters reported. 

The vault, which opened on the Svalbard archipelago in 2008, is designed to protect essential crop seeds — such as bean, rice and wheat — in the event of a cataclysmic disaster like nuclear war or disease.

Over 860,000 samples from almost all nations are stored in the vault. If the power were to fail, the vault would stay frozen and sealed for at least 200 years.

The seed bank in Aleppo is still able to maintain its cold storage banks, but its ability to grow and distribute seeds among other nations in the Middle East has been diminished by the conflict.

The International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) — which moved its headquarters from Aleppo to Beirut in 2012 because of the war — has requested almost 130 boxes out of 325 it deposited to the Svalbard bank. The boxes contain 116,000 seed samples and will be sent once the required paperwork is complete, Reuters reported.

Syria‘ four-year civil was has killed an estimated 250,000 people and displaced more than 11 million from their homes.  

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