[AMMAN] As the fighting in Syria intensifies, the entire international staff of a major agricultural research institute based in Syria has left the country, SciDev.Net can reveal.
The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) has relocated its international staff, experts, facilities and much of its equipment from the organisation's headquarters and principal research station in northern Syria to other offices in the region, mainly Jordan and Lebanon, according to an ICARDA official.
In April, SciDev.Net reported that although the Syrian conflict had not affected the progress of ICARDA's global research programme, it had forced the organisation to reorganise its work in certain parts of the country. With the security situation deteriorating by the day, ICARDA has now had to take further action.
Nasri Haddad, regional coordinator for ICARDA's West Asia Regional Program, based in Amman, Jordan, told SciDev.Net: "The main station in Aleppo, Syria, has been looted, and the centre has lost vehicles and computers; even some of the sheep unit facilities have been damaged".
ICARDA's last related public announcement, on 6 July, said that the headquarters had been subjected to frequent night raids by armed gangs, who had stolen vehicles, computers, farm machinery and other equipment. Fortunately, ICARDA stated, all email, financial systems, databases and its gene bank had been safely relocated.
According to Haddad, "no damage had been done to the gene bank, and the genetic material of the different crops are all safe". The ICARDA gene bank is one of the world's leading seed banks. The centre took action earlier this year to duplicate genetic material from its central bank and deposit it in gene banks across the regions it works in, to ensure their protection.
ICARDA has developed a short term plan to deal with the coming growing seasons in the countries to which experts have been relocated, Haddad said. There is also a medium term plan for the future, aimed at mitigating the impact of the recent interruptions to ICARDA's work.
The regional headquarters and country offices provided critical support to the international headquarters, helping them to relocate international staff to country offices relevant to their specialisms, or to the regional projects they had been helping to implement.
ICARDA manages around 200 projects outside Syria. It has six regional programmes involving more than fifty developing countries in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa, with numerous country offices in these regions.
Fawzi Al-Sheyab, director general of Jordan's National Center for Agricultural Research and Extension, told SciDev.Net: "The research projects in collaboration with ICARDA are ongoing and are not affected by the relocation of the headquarters".
He suggested that the relocation may even impact positively on the Jordanian regional office, and others, as they could benefit from the expertise of the international experts relocated to them.
Meanwhile, with a peaceful resolution to the conflict remaining elusive, the UN reports that 235,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the start of the conflict in March 2011.