Of dire consequences
Harbouring nuclear ambitions point to dangerous connotations
The nuclear powers have conducted more than 2,000 nuclear test explosions. Out of this 1054 have been done by the United States of America. The last US nuclear weapons test took place 26 years ago on September 23, 1992, at the Nevada Test Site. It was the 1,030th such experiment, the most conducted by any country since the first American atom bomb was exploded in 1945. Tim Fernholz in an article dated September 23, 2018 points out that 'the unintended consequences of testing are still being felt today: Fallout from the Nevada experiments was likely responsible for the deaths of as many as 690,000 American civilians, according to new research into the radioactive contamination'.
Semipalatinsk region in Kazakhstan has a history of maximum nuclear detonations conducted by the Soviet Union. From 1949 onwards 456 such tests were conducted. Out of this 340 were underground while 116 were over ground tests. These caused immense damage to the flora and fauna of the area. The reasons for newer health problems which developed during that period were not clear initially. But as congenital anomalies and other problems developed the situation became alarming. There was commotion among people but it lacked an organised movement. It was only when a popular poet Suleimenov Olzhas took up the challenge to oppose the tests that anti-nuclear movement did not remain limited to Semipalatinsk but became a national issue. He and his colleagues went through the details of impact of nuclear tests. They observed that contrary to the government's propaganda, even the underground nuclear tests caused leakage of nuclear radiations. As a result of close collaboration between Dr Bernard Lown, Co-President International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and Suleimenov Olzhas's the anti-nuclear movement was named as 'Nevada Semey' International Antinuclear movement. This was to demand ban on nuclear tests at both the major nuclear test sites in USA and USSR. The movement became so popular in Kazakhstan that they succeeded in stopping the nuclear tests in 1989 and closure of the site in 1991. A commemorative International Practical - Scientific Conference of the 30th anniversary of success story held at Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan on September 18, 2019, demanded complete global nuclear abolition so as to save the modern civilisation from the threat of extinction.
That success story needs to be repeated. The world is once again moving towards the nuclear threat. This time it is not between the major nuclear weapons possessing countries, who however may be overtly or covertly involved in one way or the other. The gains of the post-Cold War period seem to be getting lost. Several hot spots in the world are having low-level conflicts. The Middle East is in deep turmoil. Deadly wars are going on in Syria and Yemen where there is no single authority on either side. These can escalate into larger wars. In that situation, the use of nuclear weapons may not be ruled out. Situation in south Asia has been at its worst in the last few years. The terrorist violence in Pulwama, Kashmir on February 14, 2019, which killed 42 security personnel became the trigger. But for the release of Indian Pilot by Pakistan, the situation after the air attack by India on terrorist camps in Balakot and capture of Indian Pilot by Pakistan would have taken an extremely serious turn. Things were thawing slowly when, through an abrupt action, the Indian government abrogated Article 370 in Jammu & Kashmir without taking the people of the state into confidence; bifurcated the state, reducing its status to Union Territory and brought it under direct control of the Central government. Even though this is an internal matter of India, it irked Pakistan because they consider Kashmir as a disputed territory. Since then the Pakistan army and the government are issuing provocative statements and threatening use of nuclear weapons. Indian government too in its response has not shown statesmanship. The defense minister issued a statement recently that India may not stick to its No First Use policy if a situation arises. Indian army chief's statements that we will go beyond Balakot and similar statements by the Pakistani army chief and government officials are worsening the situation. Any further escalation may push the two countries into an all-out war where nuclear weapons' use may be imminent.
Any such event will push not only the two countries into a catastrophic situation but have global ramifications. Use of nuclear weapons will have serious climatic consequences. The studies by Ira Helfand and A Robock have revealed that this would cause suspension of soot and debris in the atmosphere which would prevent sun rays from entering the earth. This will lead to a fall in temperature of earth. This, in turn, will lead to crop failure. The impact may last for several months to several years and would put over 2 billion people at risk.
We cannot afford this. People in such large number, particularly poor from the global south, ending up in starvation are a very serious matter. It is unfortunate that when the danger is so grave the movements opposing it are very few. There was a time when millions of people would demonstrate against war, but not now.
The war is the most serious threat to public health with catastrophic effects on infrastructure and environment and accounts for more deaths and disability than many major diseases combined. It destroys families, communities and sometimes whole cultures. It channels limited resources away from health and other social needs. The wars cause death, injury, migration and concentration in refugee camps that affect normal life. In conflict situations, children and women are worst affected. Children lose their education and as a result of continuous exposure to violence, watching the death of nears and dears, get psychologically disturbed and land up with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It is time we must speak against war in any form. Silence will destroy our civilisation built through thousands of years.
(Dr. Arun Mitra is an ENT surgeon. The views expressed are strictly personal)
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