Beirut: The Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences (FAFS) at the American Uniersity of Beirut (AUB) organized the "Svalbard Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security” to underscore the importance of action to build resilience to climate change through preserving crop biodiversity. The walk was held in partnership with the Government of Norway, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), to mark the first step of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad.
The walk capitalized on an important event happening in Norway, namely the yearly summer season opening of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault for the second annual seed deposits thak took place in the week of June 6-12, 2022, to receive seeds from across the world and to spotlight the risks that climate change poses to our global food security. From June 4 till 10, 2022, Michael Haddad completed a challenging physical feat of a 5 km walk in Svalbard, Norway, roughly 1,300 kilometers south of the North Pole, toward the famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Arctic Circle, where he delivered a collection of seeds from 12 Arab counties, supplied by ICARDA. During his journey, Haddad carried a special edition of the book “Why Are You Afraid, Have You No Faith?” blessed by Pope Francis, which documents the extraordinary moment of prayer presided by the pope in March 2020, at a peak moment of the COVID-19 pandemic. The book was handed to the Svalbard Museum for safe keeping and display, as a symbolic seed of hope to be preserved and to remain for posterity, inspiring optimism and encouraging in solidary action to address the climate crisis.
Paralyzed from the chest down at the age of six, and told that he could never walk again, Haddad performed his odds-defying symbolic walk with the aid of a specially designed simple exoskeleton to keep him upright as he uses a pair of crutches to walk using the unique “step-through-gait” mechanism that he devised to be independently ambulant. Michael struggled against harsh climate conditions throughout this journey while exerting exceptional physical effort that kept his body warm. For the past two years, scientists from FAFS at the American University of Beirut, accompanied him and worked with him continuouly to significantly optimize his overall performance.
Dr. Omar Obeid, professor and chair of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department at AUB, and AUB’s Global Network Lebanon focal point and licensed dietitian Rami Elhusseini, joined Michael Haddad on the trip to gather physiological and performance data using core body temperature monitors as part of a clinical case study on athletes with spinal cord injuries.
Prior to the walk, the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at AUB and its partners hosted "The Svalbard Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security” launch event on June 1, 2022 at the Maamari Auditorium at AUB, bringing together key stakeholders from government institutions, international organizations, academia, and the private sector to reflect on the nexus of climate change, agriculture, water, food production, and food security. Attended by Ambassador of Norway Martin Yttervik; Norwegian Deputy Head of Mission Svenn Wroldsen; Norwegian Head of Development Coordination Mari Grepstad; as well as Ambassador of Canada Chantal Chastenay; Ambassador of Italy Nicoletta Bombardiere; US Foreign Service Officer Kristina Hayden; and UNDP Resident Representative Melanie Hauenstein. The conference aimed to highlight the importance of preserving global crop biodiversity, explain the implications and threats posed by climate change to agricultural productivity and food security, and emphasize on the necessary action to build the resilience of agri-food systems in the face of climate change. It also focused on the Arab region as a case in point, with its average temperatures rising faster than the world average, and where water scarcity and dependence on food imports, including essential staples, are among the highest in the world and still growing.
The collaborative aspect of the project is typical of what the United Nations’ sustainability agenda refers to as “Partnerships for the Goals”, for SDG 17. AUB has always believed its duty as a leading institution in higher learning to have a significant role when it comes to incorporating the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into both curricula and governance, making this venture another success story combining science and ethos.
Founded in 1866, the American University of Beirut bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. A teaching-centered research university, AUB has more than 800 full-time faculty members and a student body of about 8000 students. AUB currently offers more than 120 programs leading to bachelor’s, master’s, MD, and PhD degrees. It provides medical education and training to students from throughout the region at its Medical Center that includes a full-service 365-bed hospital.