On December 10, 2017, Oslo the capital of Norway will be filled with exciting events when the Nobel Peace Prize for this year will be bestowed upon the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This campaign has 468 partners who have been consistently working, since long, for a nuclear weapon free world. ICAN was officially launched in Vienna, Austria in April 2007, during the Non-Proliferation Treaty preparatory committee meeting. It was inspired by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which had played a major role in the negotiation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa Treaty.
As a result of the continuous work since then in the form of lobbying with governments in many countries and the UN public opinion building by the partners in respective countries, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on July 7 2017, by 122 votes in favour and only one against the resolution, declaring nuclear weapons to be illegal. This is indeed a big achievement which drew global attention and was recognised by the Nobel Peace Prize Committee who announced that ICAN would be the recipient of this year's prize.
Studies around the globe have brought to the fore the catastrophic impact that nuclear weapons can bare. There cannot be a better explanation than what the medical team from the ground zero in Hiroshima had given after the dropping of the nuclear bomb. The first foreign doctor to arrive in Hiroshima after the bombing, to assess the effects and treat the victims, was ICRC delegate, Marcel Junod. Junod sent a cable to Geneva on 30 August 1945:
"….conditions appalling. City wiped out. 80 per cent of all hospitals destroyed or seriously damaged. Inspected two emergency hospitals. Conditions are beyond description. Effect of bomb is mysteriously serious. Many victims apparently recovering suddenly suffer fatal relapse due to the decomposition of white blood cells and other internal injuries are now dying in great numbers. Estimated still over one hundred thousand wounded in emergency hospitals located surroundings, sadly lacking bandaging materials, medicines…." Thereafter, several studies have been carried out which prove the futility of medical response in the event of a nuclear attack. Detailed data has shown that it is not possible to have such amount of emergency care anywhere in the world.
A study by Nuclear Physicist MV Ramna has shown that a single 150 kiloton bomb on Mumbai, would cause between 736,000 and 8,660,000 deaths. If each side were to use 50 numbers of 15 kilotons Hiroshima-sized weapons (small by current standards), on the other's population centres, it was predicted that within the first week more than 20 million people would die directly from blast effects of explosions, burns from fires and radiation. While this is horrific, recent studies demonstrate that the global long-term damage could be far greater.
IPPNW first estimated that the number at risk of famine from even such a limited regional war would be one billion. This was later revised up to at least two billion. How did Helfand and IPPNW arrive at such dramatic figures? A 2006 study by climate, atmospheric and oceanic scientists Alan Robock and Brian Toon determined that fires caused by hundred nuclear explosions would inject 5–6.5 million tonnes of black soot so high into the atmosphere that it could not be washed out by rainfall and would persist for a decade, blocking out sunlight and reducing surface temperatures across the planet by an average of 1.3 °C.
The internal regions of major continents, the bread baskets, might experience severe effects on production, with cooling causing shortened growing seasons and decreased precipitation, as less water evaporated from the oceans. This soot heating the upper atmosphere would also substantially decrease the stratospheric ozone, allowing more UV light to reach the earth's surface, further reducing crop yields. This would lead to starvation globally. The effect will be more in the poor countries and the poor in the countries would be most adversely affected. This would put two billion people at risk.
These studies clearly indicate the threat is looming large over mankind at a time when several parts of the world have serious conflict zones and there is a direct involvement of nuclear weapon states in many of these conflicts. Any use of nuclear weapons intentionally, unintentionally or by accident, would have extremely grave ramifications on the life system as a whole. With no remedy, in that case, the only option is the abolition of nuclear weapons. It is unfortunate that none of the nuclear weapon states participated in the treaty deliberations. They must realise that they would also not survive any such catastrophe.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is Vice President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development. The views expressed are strictly personal.)