Physicians Warn of "Nuclear Famine" from Regional Nuclear War
October 11, 2007
A limited, regional nuclear war, such as an
exchange between India and Pakistan, would cause world wide climate disruption
and lead to global famine according to a US physician who presented his findings
at a joint medical conference on nuclear war organized by IPPNW and the Royal
Society of Medicine's Catastrophes and Conflict Forum. Ira Helfand presented "An
Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting from Limited, Regional
Nuclear War" at the conference - Nuclear Weapons: The Final Pandemic
- Preventing Proliferation and Achieving Abolition, in London on October 5, 2007.
Helfand cited research by Professors Alan Robock and Owen B. Toon demonstrating
that debris ejected into the atmosphere from the nuclear explosions and subsequent
fires would cause sudden global cooling and decreased precipitation for up to
10 years. Shorter growing seasons with significantly lower production would result
in many grain producing areas. Similar damage was done by the explosion of the
Indonesia volcano Tambora, which led to "the year without a summer"
in the US and elsewhere in 1816.
Warning that "a total global death toll
in the range of one billion from starvation alone," could be the result of
a nuclear war involving only about 100 weapons - approximately the number possessed
by India and Pakistan together - Dr. Helfand explained that there are already
800 million people in the world whose daily caloric intake falls below minimum
requirements. "A small decline in available food would put this entire group
at risk. A sudden decline in agricultural production could trigger massive famine.
There is a very high likelihood that starvation on this scale would lead to major
epidemics of infectious diseases."
"We are ill prepared to deal
with a major fall in world food supply," Dr. Helfand explained. "Global
grain stocks stand at 49 days, lower than at any point in the past five decades.
These stocks would not provide any significant reserve in the event of a sharp
decline in production."
"In addition, we would probably see hoarding
on a global scale. In the event of a regional nuclear war, the grain exporting
states would be faced with major crop losses and the prospects of bad harvests
for the next several years. It is probably that they would refuse to export whatever
grain surplus they might have."
is Regional Vice President for the North America Region of IPPNW and an emergency
room doctor in Western, MA.