Nuclear famine: New IPPNW study shows a billion people at risk

A nuclear war anywhere in the world, using as few as 100 weapons, would disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the lives of more than a billion people would be at risk, according to research findings released overnight by MAPW's international organisation IPPNWi.

Working with data produced by scientists who have studied the climate effects of a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan, author Dr. Ira Helfand and a team of experts in agriculture and nutrition determined that plunging temperatures and reduced precipitation in critical farming regions, caused by soot and smoke lofted into the atmosphere by multiple nuclear explosions, would interfere with crop production and affect food availability and prices worldwide.
Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk—Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition, will be published in peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change. Among its specific findings:
  • There would be a significant decline in middle season rice production in China. During the first 4 years, rice production would decline by an average of 21%; over the next 6 years the decline would average 10%.
  • Corn production in the US would decline by an average of 10% for an entire decade, with the most severe decline (20%) in year 5. Soybean production would decline by about 7%, with the most severe loss, more than 20%, in year 5.
  • Increases in food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest. Even if agricultural markets continued to function normally, 215 million people would be added to the rolls of the malnourished over the course of a decade.
  • The 925 million people in the world who are already chronically malnourished would be put at risk by a 10% decline in their food consumption.
  • Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food.
MAPW’s spokesperson Assoc/Prof Tilman Ruff says that this new evidence confirms that nuclear war would cause an unprecedented humanitarian disaster. “Australian agriculture would be decimated by a nuclear war anywhere in the world.
“This data shows again that no purpose could ever justify use of such weapons. It makes plain the overwhelming need to prevent any use of nuclear weapons, and urgently wind back stockpiles to zero” he said.
While the IPPNWi report calls for further research into the effects on additional crops in additional agricultural regions, uthor Dr Ira Helfand said this preliminary study “raises a giant red flag” about the danger of nuclear weapons and the urgency of their elimination.
“The deaith of one billion people over a decade would be a disaster unprecedented in human history,” he said. “It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it.
“The danger identified in this report requires a fundamental change in our thinking about nuclear weapons. We must now recognize that it is not just the arsenals of the nuclear super powers that threaten all humanity.  Even the smaller arsenals of emerging nuclear powers like India and Pakistan pose a global threat.”
Former Soviet president and founding chairman of Green Cross International, Mikhail Gorbachev, who received an advance briefing on the findings, said he is “convinced that nuclear weapons must be abolished".  “Their use in a military conflict is unthinkable; using them to achieve political objectives is immoral. Over twenty-five years ago, President Ronald Reagan and I ended our summit meeting in Geneva with a joint statement that 'nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,' and this new study underscores in stunning and disturbing detail why this is the case and why we must discard Cold War-style plans for the possible use of these weapons and move rapidly to eliminating them from the world's arsenals."       

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