This week States are meeting in Mexico for the second conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons. They will hear from a range of actors, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), about the devastation that nuclear weapons would have not only on victims in the immediate vicinity of a detonation (albeit purposeful or accidental) but also the long-term regional and global impacts.
FOOD CRISIS TRIGGER
Simply put the detonation of even one nuclear weapon in a populated area would be the end of the world as we know it. A limited regional nuclear war would result in climate cooling on a scale that would trigger a food crisis placing approximately one billion people at risk of starvation.
The world economy would also be negatively affected and the resultant global downturn would likely result in a recession or even depression in many countries. The worlds most vulnerable would no doubt bear the brunt.
The detonation of a nuclear weapon would leave large areas of land uninhabitable due to ionised radiation and contamination. Survivors would need to be evacuated, often without any realistic possibility of return within their lifetime. This scale of displacement would place tremendous pressure on the resources and capacity within a region and likely lead to insecurity and perhaps even conflict.
NO STATE HAS THE CAPACITY TO RESPOND
Over the past number of years studies have been conducted by the ICRC to assess what capacity exists globally to respond to the use of nuclear weapons. The findings are grim – an adequate response to the humanitarian needs that the use of a nuclear weapon would create do not exist. No State has the capacity to respond. No humanitarian organisation has the capacity to respond. No UN agency has the capacity to respond. Even working together, the capacity to mount a response to care for the victims of a nuclear weapon detonation simply does not currently exist.
If a nuclear weapon were detonated in a populated area, there are not enough specialised burn units anywhere to cater for the number of burn victims. Caring for those with radiation sickness would also be incredibly challenging and responders themselves would be placed in danger from ionised radiation when attempting to reach survivors.
The Irish Red Cross is part of the global Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the largest humanitarian organisation in the world. As a national society of the Red Cross Movement, we serve as an auxiliary to our national State in times of disaster (as evidenced by our recent work responding to floods in Ireland). Our core work is responding to the needs of communities in emergencies at home and abroad – helping victims of war, people suffering food insecurity or trying to recover from national disasters. This is what we do, and as a Movement we believe that no one has the capacity to meet the dire humanitarian needs that the detonation of a nuclear weapon would create. The catastrophic humanitarian impact would simply be too great and the danger to responders immense.