The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, also known as the Doomsday Vault, opened for the first time on September 23 in order to make a withdrawal. The move is thanks to the Syrian civil war, in which ISIS has been taking it upon themselves to destroy anything and everything in their path–including Syria’s own seed vault.
This has led to scientists in what’s left of the nation to request some seeds back from the Svalbard vault so they can begin restoring their own collection. Of course, there is no guarantee that these new ones won’t also be at risk, but crops need to be planted and people need to be fed, regardless of the religious extremists bent on destroying the world.
The Svalbard vault contains some 860,000 different seed samples from around the world, preserving them in case of emergency or catastrophe. When it opened in 2008, few thought that the emergency would happen so soon–or be as terrible as it has been.
The Syrian war has led to the largest refugee crisis the world has seen since the end of World War II, with countries and people around the world struggling to either take in the refugees, or struggle to make excuses (aside from bigotry) for why they shouldn’t. Some have done away with all pretense and simply stated they don’t want people of certain religious and ethnic persuasions in their country. The war also appears to be turning into the biggest proxy war between Russia and the West since the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago.
Calling the Svalbard vault a “Doomsday Vault” calls to mind images of a planet devoid of life and struggling for plants to grow, like something out of a Harlan Ellison story. However, the Syrian crisis is more in line with the original purpose of the vault; it was really meant as a backup for loss of biodiversity due to localized situations, rather than global ones. Of course, the Syrian crisis has become global from a humanitarian and political standpoint, but the loss of the Syrian seed vault is much more of a regional situation to be addressed.
The Svalbard vault can also serve to protect future generations against climate change, droughts, disease, and pests, or even a simple lack of genetic diversity created by crop consolidation and unsustainable farming techniques.
There are hundreds of seed banks like the Norwegian one around the the world, with the United Kingdom housing the largest one near London. Even nations such as Iraq and Afghanistan have had them in the past, though theirs were also damaged during the wars of the early 21st century.
Still, that the vault had to be opened at all is an indication of how bad things are getting in Syria. And with the end of the world scheduled for next week, we may need all the seeds we can get.