Dr Arun Mitra
While visiting the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, one wonders how with the knowledge of destructive power of weapons could man build and then use the nuclear arms on human population. To watch the pictures of the destruction while going around the memorial and to read the account of the loss that took place as a result of atomic bombing is a nightmarish experience. The tiny atomic bombs (as per the standards of the present day nuclear weapons) killed around 140,000 people in Hiroshima and nearly 70,000 in Nagasaki and roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day.
Out of 300 doctors, 272 died, 1684 of 1780 nurses died and 42 of 45 hospitals were destroyed. There was complete lack of medical care. High dose of radiations added to the chaos. Listening to the testimonies of the Hibakusha, the survivors of Atomic Bombing, one cannot control the emotions while they are narrating the incidents. It is difficult to imagine how it must have been to watch nears and dears melt away in a matter of seconds as a result of intense heat produced by the nuclear detonation. Today Hiroshima is like any other modern city. However the building which was the epicentre of the explosion has been preserved in the same form as it was after the explosion on 6th August 1945 so that generations to come remember the devastation caused and imagine how insane man could be at certain times.
With the surrender of Germany on May 9, 1945 the war had virtually come to an end . Surrender of Japan was imminent in a few weeks. It was expected that long lasting peace would prevail after the Potsdam Agreement between the three heads of the state Joseph Stalin, Harry Truman & Winston Churchill (replaced by Clement Attlee) in July 1945. But it was within a few days of this conference that Hiroshima was bombarded with atomic weapon followed by Nagasaki after three days. While lakhs were crying in despair in the two cities, the American administration rejoiced over this barbarous act. Use of atomic weapons on human population by the US was a show of strength and muscle power which unfortunately instead of halting, unleashed the nuclear arms race.
The number of nuclear weapons has been increasing and it is assumed that there are nearly 17000 nuclear weapons on earth today. The number of countries which possess these weapons also increased from one to nine. These include USA, Russia, Britain, France, China, North Korea, India, Pakistan and Israel.
The nuclear weapons are a real threat to not only the human population but the whole flora and fauna on earth. The very presence of these weapons is fraught with the danger of their use. It is well known that India and Pakistan have threatened each other with use of nuclear weapons 13 times and this rhetoric is not stopping. We are witnessing every day violent actions by highly motivated individuals and groups around the world who are ready to kill the innocent without any remorse. Even if the states decide not to use the nuclear weapons, there is a grave danger that these could fall in the hands of non-state actors who with their utterly insane outlook would not hesitate to use them.
The destructive power of nuclear weapons is well documented now. Ira Helfand, Co President of IPPNW in a study on Climate Consequences of Regional Nuclear War has pointed out that even a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan using Hiroshima sized nuclear weapons could put over two billion people at risk. Up to 20 million people would be killed outright as the great cities of the subcontinent were destroyed and it would blanket much of South Asia with radioactive fallout. But the global consequences are even more alarming.
Peer-reviewed studies by climate experts show clearly that this limited nuclear conflict would even affect weather patterns throughout the world. Soot and debris injected into the atmosphere from the explosions and resulting fires would block sunlight from reaching the earth, producing an average surface cooling of -1.25ºC that would last for several years. Even 10 years out, there would be a persistent average surface cooling of -0.5ºC. This would lead to crop failure and affect the size of available food stocks.
If the soot injected into the atmosphere in a nuclear war caused significant ozone depletion that could cause a further major decline in actual food production. The combination of failed harvests and a collapsed distribution system would prevent essential foods from reaching the areas which require these. This scenario will affect the poor countries more and the poor people in these countries even worse.
It is being slowly realized that complete abolition of nuclear weapons is the ultimate and in fact the only solution to overcome the potential consequences of nuclear weapons for humanity. Without the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, the element of risk that nuclear weapons will be, will continue to exist. Our former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had proposed an action Plan for nuclear disarmament. He had pointed out that the use of nuclear weapons could result in the death of 4 billion people, or the end of life on Earth as we know it. On 21 January 1988, in his speech at the opening session of the Six-Nation Five-Continent Peace Initiative in Stockholm, he had stated: “What we need to end is the option of unleashing global devastation or holding the survival of humanity to ransom. We must protect humanity as much from the known dangers of extinction as from those that are still unknown.”
Adoption of Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) by the UNO is a big step forward and a real hope. The treaty has been already signed by the 82 countries and ratified by 40 countries. There is need for 10 more ratifications for its entry into force. The treaty delegitimizes and prohibits the possession, testing, use, trade of the nuclear weapons in any form. This is indeed a big achievement. The nuclear weapons possessing countries have met a moral defeat in the highest international forum by not joining the treaty. It is time all the nuclear weapons possessing countries realize their duty to join the treaty and abolish these weapons of mass destruction.
In her highly emotive lecture at the Nobel Peace Prize giving ceremony to the International Campaign for the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Oslo on 10th December 2017, Hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow had said “To every President and Prime minister of every nation of the world, I beseech you: Join this treaty; forever eradicate the threat of nuclear annihilation”. (IPA)
Dr Arun Mitra