Signing the ban treaty
July the 7th, 2017 is a historical day when the General Assembly of the UN passed a resolution declaring nuclear weapons as illegal. The nuclear ban treaty has been opened for signature on September 20, 2017. The treaty prohibits development, testing, production, manufacture, or otherwise acquisition, possession or stockpiling of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, direct or indirect transfer or receiving of nuclear explosive devices and the use or threat to use nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. It also prohibits a country to allow stationing, installation or deployment of any nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices in its territory or at any place under its jurisdiction or control.
That this happened with 122 votes in favour, only one (Netherlands) against and one (Singapore) abstention, is in itself a great achievement. All nine nuclear weapon-possessing countries, USA, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea did not attend the negotiations. Leading nuclear weapon-possessing countries, the USA, Russia, UK and France, used all sorts of tactics, including threats, economic blackmail and assurance of nuclear umbrella, to pressurise the UN member states. But this did not deter the countries in such large number to vote for the resolution.
It was not an easy task. Medical fraternity has been deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the prime body of physicians undertaking this task since 1980, and recipient of Nobel Peace Prize 1985, took up the challenge of uniting a large number of organisations, which together launched an International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). Several civil society meetings on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons were held; in Oslo (Norway) 2013, Nayarit (Mexico) 2014 and Vienna (Austria) 2014. These meetings dealt at length with the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons and were able convince governments about the catastrophic effects of nuclear weapons.
We know from history the devastation caused by the nuclear detonation on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6th & 9th August 1945 respectively. As per available data, about 1,40,000 people died in Hiroshima and nearly 70,000 in Nagasaki. A nuclear weapon is not an ordinary weapon. It has a multi-pronged effect. Temperatures of a nuclear explosion match those in the interior of the sun, about 100,000,000° Celsius, and produce a fireball. It causes combustible materials to break into flames and all materials to melt instantaneously.
In addition, the blast leads to shock waves further leading to wind blowing at several hundred kilometers per hour. This causes intense damage to even strong concrete structures. Both caused deaths of several thousand people in Japan.
The radiations which followed the blast caused acute radiation sickness leading to severe burns and bleeding from different organs of the body. Those who did not receive very heavy doses of radiation developed the effects slowly and died in a few months time thereafter. Many exposed to the radiation developed various types of cancers in months for years to come. The radiations are known to cause genetic mutations, which continue for generations. That is why the offsprings born to radiation-exposed couples have several defects. Another irony is that the area is so much affected by radiation that medical personnel would hesitate to go and work there.
A recent study by Dr. Ira Helfand shows that even a limited nuclear war using 100 Hiroshima size nuclear bombs would lead to a nuclear winter and failure of crops globally. This would put two billion people at risk of starvation and death. The poor countries will be affected more and poor people in these countries will be the worst sufferers.
Now we have an opportunity to abolish nearly 17,000 nuclear weapons still present on earth. Even though the ban treaty is not a legally binding instrument on the countries who do not sign the treaty, it is a sane voice of people around the world who do not want to go through the sufferings which the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went through. Dangerous signals of a nuclear fallout between USA and North Korea cannot be ignored. Therefore, it is so important that all the nine nuclear weapons states, USA, Russia, UK, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea, sign this treaty.
India has been a harbinger of peace movement in the world - thanks to Non-Aligned Movement by Jawahar Lal Nehru. We must take the lead to convince other nuclear weapon states to sign the treaty and prevent the biggest health catastrophe from happening as a result of nuclear fallout. IPA
(Dr. Arun Mitra is a leading ENT specialist based in Ludhiana. He is the Senior Vice-President of Indian Doctors for Peace and Development and is presently a member of the core committee of Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare in India. Views expressed are strictly personal.)