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Indo-Pak nuke war may set off global FAMINE: Study

Last updated on: April 25, 2012 11:09 IST

Indo-Pak nuke war may set off global FAMINE: Study

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Yoshita Singh in New York

More than a billion people around the world could face starvation if a nuclear war breaks out between India and Pakistan, according to a new report which said the "nuclear famine" will be an "unprecedented" disaster that would bring an end to modern civilisation.

The report released by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War said a nuclear "confrontation" between the South Asian neighbours, even if it is restricted to the region, would cause major worldwide climate disruption driving down food production in China, the United States and other nations.

"New evidence that even the relatively small nuclear arsenals of countries such as India and Pakistan could cause long lasting, global damage to the Earth's ecosystems and threaten hundreds of millions of already malnourished people demands that action be taken," said Ira Helfand, author of the study.

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Image: File photo of a nuclear explosion. Image for representation only
Photographs: Reuters

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The study 'Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk-Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition' found that mass famine deaths would likely be unavoidable.

Helfand said the "needless and preventable deaths of one billion people over a decade would be a disaster unprecedented in human history. It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it."

"The grim prospect of nuclear famine requires a fundamental change in our thinking about nuclear weapons," said Helfand in the study, which was also released by IPPNW's US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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Image: A farmer walks with his hungry cow through a parched paddy field in Agartala in this dated photograph
Photographs: Jayanta Dey / Reuters

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Helfand, IPPNW's North American vice president, worked with data produced by scientists who have studied the climate effects of a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

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.

The study found that a limited regional nuclear weapons exchange between India and Pakistan would result in decline in US corn production by an average of 10 per cent for an entire decade, with the most severe decline -- 20 per cent -- occurring in the fifth year after such a war.

Soybean production would decline by about seven per cent. China would also see a significant decline in its middle-season rice production. During the first four years, rice production would decline by an average of 21 per cent and over the next six years the decline would average 10 per cent, the study said.

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Image: China may see a decline in rice production as a fallout
Photographs: Kham/Reuters

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This decline in food production would result in increases in food prices, which in turn would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world's poorest.

Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food.

An estimated 215 million people would be added to the rolls of the malnourished over the course of a decade even if agricultural markets continued to function normally, the report said.

"There is an urgent need to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons by all nuclear weapons states and to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention that will ban these weapons completely," the report concluded.

Commenting on the report, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, former United Nations Under Secretary General of Disarmament Affairs, said unlike biological and chemical weapons, nuclear weapons have not been outlawed because of "vested interests".

Nine countries have 20,530 nuclear warheads among them, with 95 per cent being with the US and Russia.

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Image: A two-year-old malnourished boy sleeps in a hammock while taking refuge with his family in a classroom in Sukkar, in Pakistan's Sindh
Photographs: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

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"As long as these weapons exist others, including terrorists, will want them. As long as we have nuclear weapons their use by intention or accident; by states or by non-state actors is inevitable," Dhanapala said adding that total elimination of nuclear weapons through a Nuclear Weapons Convention is the only solution.

Former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev said use of nuclear weapons in a military conflict is "unthinkable" and to achieve political objectives is "immoral".

Noting that nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought, Gorbachev said the study underscores in "stunning and disturbing" detail why the world must discard Cold War-style plans for the possible use of nuclear weapons and move rapidly to eliminating them from the world's arsenals.


Image: Former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev
Photographs: Jeff Haynes/Reuters

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