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What’s Worse Than a Nuclear War?

What could be worse than a nuclear war? A nuclear famine following a nuclear war.

What could be worse than a nuclear war? A nuclear famine following a nuclear war. And where is the most likely nuclear war to break out? The India-Pakistan border. Both countries are nuclear armed, and although their arsenals are “small” compared to the U.S. and Russia, they are extremely deadly. Pakistan has about 100 nuclear weapons; India about 130. They have fought three wars since 1947 and are contending bitterly for control over the Kashmir and for influence in Afghanistan. While India has renounced first use, for whatever that is worth, Pakistan has not, declaring that in the event of an impending defeat by India’s overwhelming conventional forces it would strike first with nuclear weapons.

Saber rattling is common. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said that a fourth war could take place if the Kashmir issue wasn’t resolved, and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh replied that Pakistan “will never win a war in my lifetime.”

A nuclear China already hostile to India could also quickly become involved in a conflict between the two enemies, and Pakistan is on the brink of becoming a failed state?a development unknown and thus highly risky for a nuclear weapons nation-state.

Experts predict a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would kill about 22 million people from blast, acute radiation, and firestorms. However, the global famine caused by such a “limited” nuclear war would result in two billion deaths over 10 years.

That’s right, a nuclear famine. A war using fewer than half their weapons would lift so much black soot and soil into the air that it would cause a nuclear winter. Such a scenario was known as far back as the 1980s, but no one had calculated the impact on agriculture.

The irradiated cloud would cover vast portions of the earth, bringing low temperatures, shorter growing seasons, sudden crop-killing extremes of temperature, altered rainfall patterns and would not dissipate for about 10 years. Now, a new report based on some very sophisticated studies reveals the crop losses that would result and the number of people who would be put at risk for malnutrition and starvation.

The computer models show declines in wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans. Overall production of crops would fall, hitting their low in year five and gradually recovering by year ten. Corn and soybeans in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri would suffer an average of 10 percent and, in year five, 20 percent. In China, corn would fall by 16 percent over the decade, rice by 17 percent, and wheat by 31 percent. Europe would also have declines.

Making the impact even worse, there are already almost 800 million malnourished people in the world. A mere 10 percent decline in their calorie intake puts them at risk for starvation. And we will add hundreds of millions of people to the world population over the next couple of decades. Just to stay even with we will need hundreds of millions more meals than we now produce. Second, under the conditions of a nuclear war-induced winter and severe food shortages, those who have will horde. We saw this when drought depressed production a couple of years ago and several food exporting nations stopped exporting. The economic disruption to the food markets would be severe and the price of food will go up as it did then, placing what food is available out of reach for millions. And what follows famine is epidemic disease.

“Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk?” is a report from a world-wide federation of medical societies, the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (Nobel Peace Prize recipients, 1985) and their American affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility. It’s online at They have no political axe to grind. Their sole concern is human health.

What can you do? The only way to assure ourselves this global disaster will not happen is to join the global movement to abolish these weapons of mass destruction. Start with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons ( We abolished slavery. We can get rid of these terrible instruments of destruction.

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