Here’s something heartening: as chaos and violence continues to rage across Syria’s surface, a small ark of life persists underground. As Aeon points out, an extensive seed bank is operating beneath the occupied town of Tel Hadya, just southwest of war-torn Aleppo. And against all the odds, the site continues to operate on a skeleton crew (all non-nationals have been evacuated), with a fraughtly negotiated supply of diesel powering the back-up generators that preserve the collection of thousands of plant varieties.
The bank was set up by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) to preserve the diversity of plant life in the region. But like the Abu Ghraib seed bank in Iraq, which was destroyed in 2003, the Syrian bank has proven vulnerable to the geopolitical realities of the Middle East.
Not taking any chances, ICARDA acted quickly to make a withdrawal from the Syrian bank as the conflict escalated. A duplicate collection now sits in the global seed vault in Svalbard, Norway; a doomsday structure built into rock and ice that is designed to last for centuries, even if humanity fails to preserve itself in that time.
Since that first withdrawal, with the Syrian site operating but inaccessible, ICARDA has continued to withdraw seeds from Svalbard to continue its studies and germinate plants for duplicate seeds. For more details on the mission, you can read the full Aeon article.