UNDP’s Regional Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad embarks on Arctic Walk

to deliver a “Package of Hope” to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, including seed samples from 12 Arab countries and a book by Pope Francis

June 13, 2022
Goodwill Ambassador Michael Haddad
Photo credit: UNDP Lebanon/ Rana Sweidan

Beirut, 1 June 2022 — A special ceremony, hosted today at the American University in Beirut marked the first step in United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Goodwill Ambassador, Michael Haddad’s Arctic Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security, slated for 7 June 2022 in Svalbard, Norway.

Haddad will walk towards the Svalbard Global Seed Vault — a global backup facility that provides secure long-term storage of duplicates of seeds conserved in gene banks around the world to help safeguard global crop diversity — to deliver a “Package of Hope,” comprising seed packets from twelve Arab countries for preservation at the vault, alongside a limited edition of a book by Pope Francis book as a symbolic seed of hope, for safekeeping for posterity.

“A global food crisis looming and a deep climate emergency threatening our life on this planet, may drive many to helplessness. But standing together in solidarity, we must maintain our hope in the future,” said Michael Haddad. “I come from the Arab region, where we depend on imports for most of our food and where temperatures are rising faster than the global average. I will walk in Svalbard to call upon us all to act with determination, ambition, and urgency to stave off the climate crisis and ensure our collective food security — both cornerstones for human security.”

In coordination with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) prepared for Haddad the seed packets as part of the official seed stocks from, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, the State of Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen, intended for deposit in the Svalbard vault. The specially prepared packages include wild relatives of wheat, barley, lentil, chickpea, and other forage legumes.

“Through the second Sustainable Development Goal, the world has committed to end hunger, achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture,” stressed Melanie Hauenstein, UNDP Resident Representative in Lebanon. “Fulfilling this promise requires concerted efforts to mitigate climate change, to curb rural poverty, and empower small farmers, especially women who shoulder significant burdens in agricultural production. UNDP in Lebanon prioritizes all such efforts”

Along with the actual seeds Haddad will carry a symbolic seed of hope in the form of a miniature edition of Pope Francis’ book, “Why Are You Afraid, Have You No Faith?” which documents the extraordinary moment of prayer over which he presided in March 2020, at a peak moment of the COVID-19 pandemic. The book has been printed in many languages and distributed around the world, but the miniature copy that Haddad will carry is part of a special limited edition and has been blessed by Pope Francis himself, in a special occasion organized by the Institute for Global Dialogue and Culture of Encounter. At the start of his walk, Haddad will gift a copy of the book to the Svalbard Museum for wider public display in the section dedicated to the Vault, after its planned expansion in 2024.

“The Svalbard Global Seed Vault represents Norway’s important contribution to the global effort to preserve agricultural biodiversity and safeguard the future of the world’s food supply,” said HE Martin Yttervik, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway to Lebanon. “It may be a critical resource in the event of global catastrophe, and important back-up for the seed collections preserved by gene banks across the globe.”

Paralyzed from the chest down at the age of six, and told that he could never walk again, Haddad will perform his odds-defying symbolic walk with the aid of a specially designed exoskeleton to keep him upright as he uses a pair of crutches to walk in the unique “step-to-gait” mechanism that he devised. A distinguished scientific team from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU) closely supports and follows Michael’s walking endeavours.

Attributable quotes from partners:

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)

“Climate change and biodiversity are very closely related. As one increases, the other decreases. So much of the diversity of our food crops has already been lost. But it is not too late to save what we have left,” said Solange Matta Saade, Assistant FAO Representative — Programme. “Michael Haddad’s Walk for Climate Resilience and Food Security serves as a timely reminder of the risk that climate change poses to crop diversity and food security.”

The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)

“For over four decades under CGIAR, the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, ICARDA has worked with valued partners to deliver resilient livelihoods to dryland family farmers in the region,” said Dr Hassan Machlab, ICARDA Country Manager for Lebanon, Jordan & Palestine. “We thank Michael for highlighting the importance of protecting precious, threatened agrobiodiversity, a key pillar of our work. His commitment is an inspiration to us all.”

The American University of Beirut (AUB)

“Scientific teams at AUB accompany Michael to understand and optimize his unique walking ability, in the hope to avail it to anyone with similar spinal cord injury,” said Ammar Olabi, Interim Dean, Faculty of Agricultural & Food Sciences at AUB. “We also team up with Michael to reach out to farmers, introducing the AgSAT free app that we developed to help them manage water for irrigation, by providing access to satellite data. It saves costs and resources and strengthens sustainable livelihoods.”

The Lebanese American University (LAU)

“Michael is a walking lab for humanity. We are committed to continue to support him to achieve his goals, as we are to learning from his unique experience,” said Saad El Zein, Assistant to the President for Special Projects, LAU. “At LAU, we engage with Michael in a strategic and multi-disciplinary manner through many of our schools and departments, including engineering, medicine, innovation, spanning science, technology, innovation, and most importantly humanitarian aspects.”

Dicastery of Communication, the Holy See (special message to the event)

“The book that will now endure in the Arctic for generations to come. as a seed of hope, documents the historic Statio Orbis of 27 March 2020,” said Msgr. Lucio Ruiz, Secretary Dicastery of Communication of the Holy See. “A moment that will remain etched in the memories of all men and women, who watched on their screens, while locked down due to the tempest of the COVI-19 pandemic, Pope Francis on Saint Peter’s square bidding us to wake up and create new paths of deep hope for all.”

Institute for Global Dialogue and Culture of Encounter (special message to the event)

“We are united by the certainty that we are all in the same boat and that care for our Common Home depends on our courage to dream the future together — no one is saved alone,” said Gabriela Sacco, Director of the Institute for Global Dialogue and Culture of Encounter. “From our vintage point, focusing on the Right to Water, as a public policy and knowledge transfer endeavour, we embrace and walk in brotherhood with Michael Haddad, convinced that there must be hope for a better world”

For media inquiries around the Svalbard Walk, and to arrange for interviews or receive b-roll and photos from the walk, please contact


Noeman AlSayyad | Regional Communication Advisor | noeman.alsayyad@undp.org | +962(79)5672901

Rana Moughabghab | Senior Communication & Media Officer | rana.moughabghab@undp.org | +961(3)835351

Oda Steen | Comm focal point — Nordic Rep Office | oda.steen@undp.org | +47(94)034850


Afshaan Shafi | Communication Lead, Int’ Treaty | Afshaan.Shafi@fao.org | +39(06)57052469

Christabel Clark | Knowledge management Officer | Christabel.clark@fao.org | +39(06)57054780

Melissa Greck | Comm & Digital Media Assistant | melissa.greck@fao.org | +961(81)551479


Louise Sarant | Communication Specialist | L.Sarant@cgiar.org | +20(10)64500138