American Univesity of Beirut

The Svalbard Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security

On June 1st, FAFS hosted a ceremony marking the first step in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad's Svalbard Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security. Michael is paralyzed from the chest down, denoted by the T4 category in the Paralympic classification. His ability to move (and race) in an upright position using a simple exoskeleton has inspired many. The project, in partnership with ICARDA, UNDP, FAO, and the Norwegian Government, is part of a continuous international campaign for Climate Action with a multifaceted mission for promoting environmental awareness, food security, and sports nutrition. 

The event was attended by their excellencies Ambassadors of Norway, Martin Yttervik; Norwegian Deputy Head of Mission, Svenn Wroldsen; Norwegian Head of Development Coordination, Mari Grepstad; in addition to Ambassadors of Canada, Chantal Chastenay; Italy, Nicolatta Bombardiere; US Foreign Service Officer, Ms. Kristina Hayden; and UNDP Resident Representative, Ms. Melanie Hauenstein.

Following this launching event, FAFS' Dr. Omar Obeid, Professor and Chair of the Nutrition and Food Sciences Department, and Mr. Rami Elhusseini, AUB's focal point for Global Compact Network Lebanon and licensed dietitian, accompanied Michael on his trip to the Arctic circle between the 4th and 10th of June. Michael completed a five km walk in Svalbard, Norway, roughly 1,300 kilometers south of the North Pole, toward the famous Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a global backup facility for secure long-term storage of seed duplicates from around the world, to deliver a collection of seeds from 12 Arab counties, supplied by ICARDA.

Michael struggled against harsh climate conditions throughout this journey while exerting exceptional physical effort that kept his body warm. He also delivered a dedicated copy of His Holiness Pope Francis'​ book to the Svalbard Museum as a symbolic seed of hope. Michael has been accompanied by scientists from FAFS for the last two years, who worked continuously on optimizing his overall performance significantly. During this trip, the FAFS team gathered physiological and performance data using core body temperature monitors as part of a clinical case study on athletes with spinal cord injuries.

This collaborative aspect of the project is typical of what the UN's sustainability agenda refers to as “Partnership for the Goals", Sustainable Development Goal SDG#17. AUB remains a leading higher learning institution when it comes to incorporating the SDGs into both academia and governance, making this venture another success story combining science and ethos.​

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