1 NUCLEAR FAMINE: A BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? TWO Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition SECOND EDITION Ira Helfand, MD International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War Physicians for Social Responsibility
2 Credits and Acknowledgements The first edition of this briefing paper was made possible thanks to the generous financial support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. Special thanks to Madison Marks for her research assistance on this second edition. Copyright © November 2013
3 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? 1 Introduction to the Second Edition In April of 2012 we released the report Nuclear Famine: A which examined the climatic and agri- Billion People at Risk cultural consequences of a limited, regional nuclear war. The report looked specifically at the declines in US maize and Chinese rice production that would result from the pre- dicted climate disruption and concluded that even a limited nuclear conflict would cause extensive famine, mainly in the developing world, and put more than one billion people at risk of starvation. Since then new research by Lili Xia and Alan Robock has shown that the climate change caused by a limited nuclear war would affect Chinese maize production as severely as rice production and it would affect wheat production much more severely than rice output. Their new findings suggest that the original report may have seriously underestimated the consequences of a limited nuclear war. In addition to the one billion people in the developing world who would face possible starvation, 1.3 billion people in China would confront severe food insecurity. The prospect of a decade of wide- spread hunger and intense social and economic instability in the world’s largest country has immense implications for the entire global community, as does the possibility that the huge declines in Chinese wheat production will be matched by sim- ilar declines in other wheat producing countries. This updated version of Nuclear Famine attempts to address these new concerns and better define the full extent of the worldwide catastrophe that will result from even a limited, regional nuclear war.
4 2 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? Executive Summary would be added to the rolls of the malnourished ver the last several years, a number of studies have shown that a limited, regional over the course of a decade. O nuclear war between India and Pakistan would However, markets would not function normally. cause significant climate disruption worldwide. Two studies published in 2012 examined the Significant, sustained agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead impact on agricultural output that would result from this climate disruption. to panic and hoarding on an international scale as food exporting nations suspended exports in order to assure adequate food supplies for their In the US, corn production would decline by an average of 10% for an entire decade, with the own populations. This turmoil in the agricultural markets would further reduce accessible food. most severe decline, about 20%, in year 5. There would be a similar decline in soybean production, The 870 million people in the world who are chron- with the most severe loss, again about 20%, in ically malnourished today have a baseline con- year 5. sumption of 1,750 calories or less per day. Even a A second study found a significant decline in 10% decline in their food consumption would put this entire group at risk. In addition, the anticipat- Chinese middle season rice production. During ed suspension of exports from grain growing the first 4 years, rice production would decline by an average of 21%; over the next 6 years the countries would threaten the food supplies of sev- eral hundred million additional people who have decline would average 10%. adequate nutrition today, but who live in countries A third study, completed in the fall of 2013, that are highly dependent on food imports. showed that there would be even larger declines in Chinese winter wheat production. Production Finally, more than a billion people in China would would fall 50% in the first year, and, averaged also face severe food insecurity. The number of over the entire decade after the war, it would be people threatened by nuclear-war induced famine would be well over two billion. 31% below baseline. The decline in available food would be exacer- These studies demonstrate the need for addition- bated by increases in food prices which would al research and underscore the urgent need to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest. Even if agricultural markets a global agreement to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear war. continued to function normally, 215 million people
5 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? 3 UN PHOTO / ALBERT GONZALEZ FARRAN Background n the 1980s, a number of scientific studies less than 0.5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, would also produce global climate disruption, demonstrated that a large scale nuclear war I between the United States and the Soviet Union although the impact on temperature and precipi- 2 would cause “Nuclear Winter”, a profound world- At that time, tation would be less profound. wide climate disruption with significant decreases there were no data on the effect that the predict- in precipitation and average surface temperature. ed climate disruption would have on agricultural production. The historical experience following cooling events caused by volcanic eruptions, A US National Academy of Sciences study on the most notably the Tambora eruption in 1815, sug- medical consequences of nuclear war concluded that, in the aftermath of such a war, “the primary gested that there might be a very significant mechanisms for human fatalities would likely not impact on food production and human nutrition. be from blast effects, not from thermal radiation A 2007 report by the International Physicians for burns, and not from ionizing radiation, but, rather, the Prevention of Nuclear War and its US affili- 1 While the direct mortali- from mass starvation.” ate, Physicians for Social Responsibility, sug- ty attributed to a “large-scale nuclear war” was gested that up to one billion people might starve estimated at several hundred million people, the if a limited nuclear war led to even a 10% decline subsequent food and health crisis was expected 3 in their food consumption. to result in “the loss of one to four billion lives.” This report is an initial attempt to quantify the In 2007, a study by Robock et al demonstrated impact of a limited nuclear war on agricultural pro- duction and the subsequent effects on global food that even a very “limited” regional nuclear war, prices and food supply, and on human nutrition. involving only 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs, or Harwell, M., and C. Harwell. 1986. Nuclear Famine: The Indirect Effects of Nuclear War. In, Solomon, F. and R. Marston (Eds.). The Medical 1 . Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. 117-135. Implications of Nuclear War Robock, A., L. Oman, G. Stenchikov, O. Toon, C. Bardeen and R. Turco, 2007, Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts . Atm. Chem. 2 7: 2003-12. Phys., An Assessment of the Extent of Projected Global Famine Resulting from Limited, Regional Nuclear War. Paper presented to the Helfand, I. 2007. 3 Royal Society of Medicine, London, UK, October 2007.
6 4 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? Climate disruption UN PHOTO / ESKINDER DEBEBE from a “limited” regional nuclear war 4 sists for years, and after a decade the cooling 2007 study by Toon et al considered the is still -0.50°C. The temperature changes are consequences of a possible nuclear war A largest over land. A cooling of several degrees between India and Pakistan and showed that occurs over large areas of North America and such a conflict would loft up to 6.6 Tg (6.6 tera- Eurasia, including most of the grain-growing grams or 6.6 million metric tons) of black car- regions.” In addition the study found significant bon aerosol particles into the upper tropo- declines in global precipitation with marked sphere. Robock et al then calculated the effect decreases in rainfall in the most important tem- that this injection of soot would have on global perate grain growing regions of North America climate assuming a war in South Asia occurring and Eurasia, and a large reduction in the Asian in mid May. 5 summer monsoon. Their study used a state of the art general cir- Two additional studies, one by Stenke et al, and culation climate model, ModelE from the NASA the other by Mills et al, each using a different cli- Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and mate model have also examined the impact on employed a conservative figure of only 5 Tg of global climate of this limited nuclear war scenario black carbon particles. They found that, “A 6, 7 and they have both found comparable effects. global average surface cooling of -1.25°C per- Toon, Owen B., Richard P. Turco, Alan Robock, Charles Bardeen, Luke Oman, and Georgiy L. Stenchikov, 2007: Atmospheric effects and societal 4 7, 1973-2002. Atm. Chem. Phys., consequences of regional scale nuclear conflicts and acts of individual nuclear terrorism. Robock, Alan, Luke Oman, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, Owen B. Toon, Charles Bardeen, and Richard P. Turco, 2007: Climatic consequenc es of region- 5 7, 2003-2012. Atm. Chem. Phys., al nuclear conflicts. http://www.atmos-chem-phys-discuss.net/13/12089/2013/acpd-13-12089-2013.html 6 Mills, M., Toon, O. B., Taylor, J., Robock, A., “Multi-decadal global cooling and unprecedented ozone loss following a regional nuclear conflict,” pub- 7 lication pending.
7 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? 5 The impact UN PHOTO / MARTINE PERRET on agricultural production The study used a comprehensive terrestrial wo studies conducted in 2012 examined ecosystem model, the Agro-Integrated Biosphere how these climate alterations would affect T Simulator (Agro-IBIS), to calculate the change in agricultural output. predicted yield for corn and soybeans at each of 8 these sites for the 10 years following a limited examined the impact on corn and Ozdogan et al nuclear war in South Asia. The calculated change soybean production in the US Corn Belt where in crop yield was based on the decline in precip- more than 70% of US grain is produced. itation, solar radiation, growing season length, Localized climate data were generated for four and average monthly temperature predicted in separate sites in the Corn Belt, one each in Robock’s study. Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri (Figure 1). Row crops Cropland Natural Mosaic Deciduous Forest Boreal Forest Grassland Coniferous Forest Shrublands Hay Pasture Urban Built-Up Land Grassland Forest Mosaic Localized climate data were generated for four sites in the US Corn Belt. From left to right, Iowa, Figure 1. 8 Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. [Figure 1 from Ozdogan et al. ] e Midwestern Ozdogan, Mutlu, Alan Robock, and Christopher Kucharik, 2012: Impacts of Nuclear Conflict in South Asia on Crop Production in th 8 United States.
8 6 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? The calculations in this initial study are probably significant shortening of the growing season. conservative, as the study did not consider two other environmental factors which would be In the northeastern United States and eastern expected to produce a further significant decline Canada, which were particularly hard hit, temper- in yield. It did not factor in the increase in UV atures were actually above average during the light secondary to ozone depletion, and, perhaps early part of the year, and even during the sum- more importantly, it did not consider daily temper- mer months there were a number of periods with ature extremes which may lead to complete crop average or above average temperatures. But failure. The observed weather following the four severe cold waves, June 6-11, July 9-11, and Tambora eruption suggests that these daily August 21 and August 30, brought killing frosts extremes may be the largest determinant of total as far south as the Mid Atlantic States, and in crop losses. The average global deviation in tem- New England and Quebec there was even signif- 9 perature in 1816 was only -0.7°C, but there was These periods of frost icant snow fall in June. TEMPERATURE EXTREMES MAY LEAD TO COMPLETE CROP FAILURE UN PHOTO / MARTINE PERRET A farmer in Timor-Leste packs up bundles of rice destroyed by climate extremes. Scientific American Stommel H, Stommel E. 1979. The year without a summer. . 240:176-186 9
9 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? 7 plies and prices which would have an additional caused extensive damage to crops. A similar negative impact on agricultural output. Further, pattern in Northern Europe caused crop losses in 10 given the intense demand for petroleum prod- and the last multi-country the range of 75% famine in European history. ucts, some of the grain produced might be diverted to ethanol production to try to offset the shortfall in petroleum. In addition, the study did not consider several other factors which might limit food production. Modern agriculture is very dependent on gaso- Despite this conservative bias, the study showed line to power tractors and irrigation pumps and very significant declines in both corn and soy- to transport produce to market, and on other bean production. Averaged over 10 years, corn production would decline by 10% at all four sites petroleum products used in the manufacture of fertilizer and pesticides. A major conflict in South (Figure 2). But there would be a great deal of Asia would be very likely to affect petroleum sup- variation from year to year, and losses would be ILLINOIS IOWA MAIZE MAIZE (300 in total) (300 in total) Number of Simulation Runs Number of Simulation Runs MISSOURI INDIANA MAIZE MAIZE (300 in total) (300 in total) Number of Simulation Runs Number of Simulation Runs Figure 2. Declines in US corn (maize) production. To generate an estimate of the probable change in crop yield, computer simulations were run to obtain 300 different baseline crop yield levels using random selec- tion of actual annual climate data over the past 30 years. The x axis shows the percent change in crop yield from the estimated baseline; the y axis shows the number of simulations that yielded a change of that size. 8 [Figure 7 from Ozdogan et al. ] Post, J. 1983. Climatic change and subsistence crises. Journal of Interdisciplinary History . 14:153-160. 10
10 8 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? - - - - Relative Yield Change [%] Years After Nuclear War Reduction of maize production over time, with whiskers showing one standard deviation for Figure 3. each year after the nuclear war. The gray area shows ±1 standard deviation from the control runs, illus- trating the effect of interannual weather variations. [Figure courtesy of M. Ozdogan.] tions in China from 198 weather stations from most severe in year 5, averaging more than 20% 1978 to 2008 (China Meteorological Data (Figure 3). For soybeans there would be a simi- lar decline averaged over 10 years (Figure 4 on Sharing Service System). The simulated change in middle season rice yield in China was due to pg 9). Here, too, the losses would be most severe in year 5, again averaging more than the predicted decline in average monthly precipi- 20%. tation, solar radiation and temperature. 11 In a separate study, Xia and Robock This study also did not consider the effect of UV examined light increases or daily temperature extremes, or the decline in Chinese middle season rice pro- the possible decline in available fertilizer, pesti- duction in response to this 5 Tg event. This study used a different model, the Decision Support cide and gasoline. Again, despite this conserva- System for Agrotechnology Transfer model 4.02 tive bias, the study showed a significant decline (DSSAT). It is a dynamic biophysical crop model in Chinese middle season rice production. Averaged over 10 years, the decline would be and simulates plant growth on a per hectare basis, maintaining balances for water, carbon about 15% (Figure 5 on pg 10). During the first 4 and nitrogen. The required inputs include the years, rice production would decline by an aver- age of 21%; over the next 6 years the decline plant environment (weather and soil), cultivar genotypes and agricultural management prac- would average 10% (Figure 6 on pg 10). tices. The outputs from this model are potential yields, which are usually higher than actual The impact on rice production was found to vary yields. Perturbed climate data in 24 provinces in widely by province (Figure 7 on pg 11). In some areas in the South and East of China, production China were generated using predictions of cli- mate change from Robock et al. and observa- would actually rise. For example, in Hainan rice Climatic Change . Xia, Lili, and Alan Robock, 2012: Impacts of Nuclear Conflict in South Asia on Rice Production in Mainland China. 11
11 9 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? ILLINOIS IOWA- SOY SOY (300 in total) (300 in total) Number of Simulation Runs Number of Simulation Runs MISSOURI INDIANA SOY SOY (300 in total) (300 in total) Number of Simulation Runs Number of Simulation Runs Declines in US soy production. The graphs were generated using the same methodology as in Figure 4. 7 Figure 2 on pg 7. [Figure 8 from Ozdogan et al. ] duction, and also the subsequent climate projec- yield would increase by 5 to 15% per year. In tions of Stenke et al. and Mills et al. There were other areas to the North and West the decline some variations in the crop outputs found using would be much more severe than the national the different climate models, but they all showed average. In Heilongjian province, home to 36 mil- significant declines in crop size. For maize the lion people, there would be a complete failure of average decline was about 16% over a full the rice crop in year 1 following the war. Rice pro- decade. For middle season rice the projected duction would remain 60 to 70% below baseline decline was somewhat larger than in their earlier for most of the rest of the following decade (Figure estimates: 20% for the first 5 years and 17% over 8 on pg 11). the course of 10 years. The most disturbing new projection related to the Chinese winter wheat In their 2013 study, Xia, Robock and their col- crop which normally is just a little bit smaller than leagues looked at the impact of the climate middle season rice production. The effect on win- change following limited nuclear war on rice, 12 ter wheat was much more severe, averaging For this maize and, wheat production in China. about 39% for the first 5 years and 31% for a full study they used the 2007 climate change projec- decade. In the first year, the projected decline in tions by Robock et al. that were used in the ear- winter wheat was more than 50%. lier studies of US maize and Chinese rice pro- Xia, L., Robock, A., Mills, M., Stenke, A., Helfand, I., “Global famine after a regional nuclear war” submitted to Earth’s Future October 2013. 12
12 10 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? Figure 5. Distribution of rice production change (%): The gray area shows ±1 standard deviation from the control runs, illustrating the effect of interannual weather variations. [Figure 2(b) from Xia and Robock.11] Figure 6. Reduction of rice production with whiskers showing one standard deviation for each year after the nuclear war. The gray area shows ±1 standard deviation from the control runs, illustrating the effect 11 of interannual weather variations. [Figure 2(a) from Xia and Robock. ]
13 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? 11 Map of rice yield reduction (%) for the first 4 years after regional nuclear conflict. Brown indi- Figure 7. cates negative change, and green indicates positive change. White regions are provinces for which we 11 did not conduct model simulations. [Redrawn from Figure 5 of Xia and Robock. ] Reduction of rice yield over time in Heilongjiang Province, with whiskers showing one standard Figure 8. 11 deviation for each year after the nuclear war. [Redrawn from Figure 6 of Xia and Robock. ]
14 12 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK The impact on human nutrition and health UN PHOTO / STUART PRICE he world is particularly vulnerable at this Normally a decline in agricultural production time to a major decline in food production. affects food consumption by raising the cost of T In June 2013, the UN Food and Agriculture food; the decline in “accessible” food, the amount Organization estimated that grain stocks were of food that people can afford to buy, is much 509 million metric tons, 21% of the annual con- greater than the decline in “available” food, the 13 sumption of 2,339 million metric tons. actual agricultural output. The impact of rising Expressed as days of consumption, this reserve food prices is, of course, felt disproportionately would last for 77 days. The US Department of by people who are already malnourished precise- Agriculture estimates were somewhat lower at ly because they cannot, at baseline prices, afford 432 million metric tons of grain stocks, a mere to buy enough food. 19% of their estimated annual consumption, of 14 16 2,289 million metric tons. Expressed as days A 2011 study by Webb et al , drawing on the of consumption, this reserve would last for only data generated by Ozdogan, attempted to esti- 68 days. mate the effect that the shortfall in agricultural output following a limited nuclear war would have Furthermore, the UN Food and Agriculture on the price of food, and therefore on its accessi- Organization estimated in 2012 that there are bility. Using a global economy-wide model, the 870 million people in the world who already suf- Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP), the study 15 fer from malnutrition. examined the effects on food prices, and the numbers of people who are malnourished. In Given this precarious situation, even small fur- order to simulate the shock’s effect on cereal and ther declines in food production could have major soybean prices, the study assumed that all crops consequences. produced globally suffer yield declines to the same extent that Ozdogan predicts for maize and The large and protracted declines in agricultural soybeans in the US corn belt. output predicted by Ozdogan and Xia are unprecedented in modern times, and the full The study found that the rise in food prices asso- extent of their impact on human nutrition are dif- ciated with the average yearly decline in food ficult to predict. production would cause an additional 40 million www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/wfs-home/csdb/en/ 13 www.usda.gov/oce/commodity/wasde/latest.pdf 14 www.fao.org/publications/sofi/en/ 15 ippnw.org/pdf/projected-impacts-webb.pdf 16
15 13 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? Somalia Suffers from Worst Drought in Century A woman holding her malnour- ished baby queues for food at the Badbado camp for Internally Displaced Persons. Famine has been declared in two regions of southern Somalia. In 2011, UN UN PHOTO / STUART PRICE Secretary General Ban Ki-moon indicated that 3.7 million people across the country that’s nearly — — half of the Somali population were in crisis and in urgent need of assistance. people to become malnourished, and that the worldwide would lead to a 19.7% rise in prices largest annual decline in food production in year and a 10% decline in caloric intake. The much 5 would cause 67 million to enter the ranks of the larger increases in food prices in some areas that malnourished. The cumulative effect over 10 are predicted in the study would therefore be expected to have a profound effect on the num- years would cause a total of 215 million people to ber of calories that people are able to consume. become malnourished. A number of factors suggest that the accessible The study concluded that a one year 20% food for those who are already malnourished decline in crop yield would cause crop prices to would decline even more dramatically than these rise 19.7%. But this rise would be very uneven- numbers suggest. The GTAP model looks only ly distributed across the globe. In East Asia the at market behavior and assumes that markets rise would be 21.4% and in South Asia 31.6%. The relationship between crop yield and food behave “normally.” In fact, experience suggests that, in the aftermath of nuclear war, markets prices is not linear: a further decline in yield would not behave normally. As the authors would lead to a much larger increase in prices. While the current crop studies do not predict a explain, “Markets react.. with commodity specu- decline of 40%, should that occur, it would cause lation, hoarding (withholding of products from the global crop prices to rise an average of 98.7%. market), or by seeking to capture market share Again the price rise would be very uneven. In through private non-open market deals (a loss of transaction transparency), each of which con- South Asia as a whole prices would rise 140.6%, tributed to higher price volatility and market and in India 159.6%. uncertainty” in recent years. For example, in March 2008, global wheat prices leaped 25% in It is hard to calculate with certainty the effect of a single day; in the following month the price of these price rises on caloric intake, but the study 17 argues that, “There is a broad consensus in the rice rose 50% in just two weeks. These tran- literature that this parameter [the percentage sient jumps in price were prompted by events far change in caloric intake given a one percent less significant than a nuclear war. increase in the price of food] is approximately - 0.5.” So a one year decline in crop yield of 20% At the time of the great Bengal famine of 1943, Webb, P. 2010. Medium to Long-Run Implications of High Food Prices for Global Nutrition. Journal of Nutrition. 140 (1): 140S-47S. 17
16 14 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? year the European Union took similar action, as during which three million people died, food pro- duction was only 5% less than it had been on did Russia. And in August 2004, Vietnam indicat- ed it would not export rice until the following average over the preceding five years, and it was 19 India banned rice exports in November spring. actually 13% higher than it had been in 1941 when there was not a famine. But in 1943, after 2007 which, followed by export rice restrictions in Vietnam, Egypt, and China in January 2008, con- the Japanese occupation of Burma, which had tributed to historic increases in world rice prices. historically exported grain to Bengal, the decline in food production was coupled with panic hoard- In 2010, Russia, responding to the severe ing, and the price of rice increased nearly five drought conditions that year, again suspended 20 grain exports. fold, making food unaffordable to large numbers 18 of people. These two factors, hoarding and the In the event of a regional nuclear war, the grain severe increase in rice prices, caused an effec- tive inaccessibility of food far more severe than exporting states would be faced with major crop losses and the prospect of bad harvests for the the actual shortfall in production. next several years. It is probable that they would take similar action, and refuse to export whatev- We would have to expect panic on a far greater er grain surplus they might have, retaining it scale following a nuclear war, even if it were a “limited” regional war, especially as it became instead as a domestic reserve. It is also probable that there would be widespread speculation on clear that there would be significant, sustained agricultural shortfalls over an extended period. agricultural markets. It is probable that there would be hoarding on an Given these potential disturbances in normal international scale as food exporting nations sus- market conditions, it is possible that the increas- es in food prices could be much larger than pre- pended exports in order to assure adequate food dicted by the Global Trade Analysis Project supplies for their own populations. In the last (GTAP) model used in the Webb et al study. decade there have been a number of examples of nations banning grain exports. In September 2002, Canada, faced with a sharp decline in Even if we do not take into account the way that wheat production because of drought conditions, rising food prices exacerbate the effects of a suspended wheat exports for a year. The next fall in food production, the declines in available UN PHOTO / ESKINDER DEBEBE This child is just one of more than 150,000 displaced Afghans living at Maslakh (internally displaced per- sons) camp in mud huts and tents. . Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1981. Sen, A. Poverty and famines 18 Outgrowing the Earth. New York: WW Norton & Co. 2004. Brown, LR. 19 Khrennikov, I. Medvedev orders review of Russian grain export ban at harvest end. 2010. 20 www.businessweek.com/news/2010-10-04/medvedev-orders-review-of-russia-grain-export-ban-at-harvest-end.html
17 15 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? food predicted by Ozdogan and Xia would be “As food prices rise people spend relatively devastating. more on staples and less on ‘quality’ foods (which tend to be micronutrient rich, including For the 870 million people who are currently mal- meat, eggs, vegetables, etc.)... nourished, the majority of their caloric intake is “The specific impacts of reduced diet quality as derived from grain. For example, in Bangladesh well as quantity include a rise in wasting among the figure is about 78%. We cannot know with certainty that a 10-20% decline in grain produc- children under 5, maternal undernutrition (low body mass index) which can also cause irre- tion would translate directly into a 10-20% decline in grain consumption for all 870 million. versible damage to the fetus and a rise in rates of low birth weights, and outbreaks of micronu- Some of the malnourished are subsistence farm- trient deficiency diseases that may be killers in ers who live in areas where grain production might not decline. But we do know that the their own right. chronically malnourished cannot survive a signif- icant, sustained further decline in their caloric “Based on such experiences, one can assume that any large food price increases attendant on intake. With a baseline consumption of 1,750 calories per day, even a 10% decline would lead a nuclear shock would result in similar shifts in household consumption globally (not only in to an additional deficit of 175 calories per day. South Asia) away from nutrient-rich, higher cost While many of the malnourished might survive foods towards core staples (with a view to the first year, it is realistic to fear that they would buffering at least a minimum energy intake). not survive if these conditions persisted for a There are insufficient data to allow for the more decade. complex modeling required to estimate resulting Even if minimal, life-sustaining, levels of calories nutrition outcomes in terms of increased could be provided for all of the malnourished, the micronutrient deficiencies, maternal nutritional compromise or low birth weight. However, it is decline in quality of nutrition would cause signifi- cant health effects. As Webb et al point out in clear that the human impacts would be huge— their study: with impaired growth and development of chil- dren, increased morbidity (due to failing immune functions caused by malnutrition), and 21 a rise in excess mortality.” UN PHOTO / OCHA/ DAVID OHANA Refugees from Libya queue for food at the Tunisia Transit Camp. Webb et al, op. cit. 2011. www.ippnw.org/pdf/projected-impacts-webb.pdf 21
18 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? 16 In addition, expressed as days of food consump- The agricultural disruption caused by a limited tion, China has significantly larger reserves of nuclear war would also pose a threat to the sev- grain than the world as a whole. In the summer eral hundred million people who enjoy adequate of 2013, wheat reserves totaled nearly 167 days nutrition at this time, but who live in countries that of consumption, and rice reserves were 119 are dependent on food imports. The nations of 26 North Africa, home to more than 150 million peo- days of consumption. 22 ple, import more than 45% of their food. Malaysia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, as Despite this relatively strong position, China well as a number of countries in the Middle East, would be hard pressed to deal with the very large 23 import 50% or more of their grain. reduction in wheat production projected in the The antici- pated suspension of exports from grain growing new study. While rice (144 million tons per year) is the most important grain in China in terms of countries might cause severe effects on nutrition in all of these countries. The wealthier among direct human consumption, wheat (125 million them might initially be able to obtain grain by bid- tons) is a close second and accounts for more 27 ding up the price on international markets, but as than 1/3 of grain consumption, and China’s the extent and duration of the crop losses wheat consumption amounts to 19% of world 28 became clear, exporting countries would proba- production. As a 2012 Australian government bly tighten their bans on exports threatening the study noted, “Security of supply for these two food supplies of all these importing countries. cereals is of uttermost importance in China and therefore food security in China often refers to The more recent study of Chinese maize and “grain security”. Not surprisingly, China pays wheat production by Xia and Robock suggests much attention to ensuring a high-level of self- 29 sufficiency in these two crops.” other impacts that need to be considered. Prior to the release of their work, it had been assumed that China, like most of the industrial world, A 31% shortfall in wheat production, coupled with the previously predicted 15% decline in rice pro- would be spared the worst effects of the global duction, would end that state of self-sufficiency. famine. But these new data raise real questions about China’s ability to feed its own people. Even the large reserves that China maintains would be exhausted within 2 years. At that point China would be forced to attempt to make mas- At baseline, China is in a better position to with- sive purchases on world grain markets driving stand the effects of decreased food production prices up even more. If, as expected, internation- than the poorer nations of the world. Caloric al hoarding made grain unavailable, China would intake has risen significantly with the dramatic have to dramatically curtail rice and wheat con- economic expansion of the last 3 decades and sumption. the average Chinese now consumes about 3000 24 calories per day. The diet has also become The 15% decline in Chinese maize production more diversified with some decline in the pro- portion of calories obtained from grains and a predicted in the new study by Xia and Robock would further affect food security. Maize is actu- rise in the amount obtained from fruits, vegeta- bles and meat products, although cereals still ally China’s largest grain crop, at 177 million tons 30 25 The vast majority is used, not for direct account for more than 40% of caloric intake. in 2010. www.ers.usda.gov/publications/gfa16/GFA16CountryTablesNAfrca.xls. 22 www.iucn.org/themes/wani/eatlas/html/gm19.html. 23 http://faostat.fao.org/CountryProfiles/Country_Profile/Direct.aspx?lang=en&area=351 24 Pinstrop-Anderson, P and Cheng, F, Case Studies in Food Policy for Developing Countries. Ithaca, New York. Cornell University Pr ess. 2009. 25 Viewed at http://goo.gl/oAGfoS http://www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdreport.aspx?hidReportRetrievalName=BVS&hidReportRetrievalID=867&hidReportRetrievalTemplate ID=13 26 http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/2259123/food-consumption-trends-in-china-v2.pdf 27 http://www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdreport.aspx?hidReportRetrievalName=BVS&hidReportRetrievalID=867&hidReportRetrievalTemplate ID=13 28 http://www.daff.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/2259123/food-consumption-trends-in-china-v2.pdf 29 Ibid. 30
19 17 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? human consumption, but for animal feed. The the US also occur in other countries? There is an decline in maize production would primarily affect urgent need to determine the impact that climate disruption after limited nuclear war will have on the 20% of caloric intake currently provided by meat and poultry. these critical food crops. Taken together, the declines in rice, maize, and Combined with the 870 million people who are wheat would lead to a decline of more than 10% currently malnourished, and the populations of the food importing countries, the 1.3 billion in average caloric intake in China. However, this is the average effect, and given the great eco- Chinese who are also at risk place the number of people potentially threatened by famine at well nomic inequality seen in China today the impact over two billion. on the billion plus people in China who remain poor would probably be much greater. It is diffi- Two other issues need to be considered as well. cult to estimate how many of these people might First, there is a very high likelihood that famine actually starve. It is clear that this dramatic decrease in food supply would cause profound on this scale would lead to major epidemics of economic and social instability in the largest infectious diseases. The prolonged cooling and country in the world, home to the world’s second resultant famine in 536-545 AD was accompa- largest and most dynamic economy, and a large nied by a major outbreak of plague which devel- oped over the next half century into a global pan- nuclear arsenal of its own. 31 The famine of 1816 triggered an epi- demic. The data on Chinese grain production also raise demic of typhus in Ireland that spread to much of 32 questions about possible implications for produc- Europe and the famine conditions in India that tion in other parts of the globe. Most of the year led to an outbreak of cholera that has been 33 world’s wheat is grown in countries at latitudes implicated in the first global cholera pandemic. similar to China’s. Will there be similar impacts on wheat production in North America, Russia, The well studied Great Bengal Famine of 1943 the European Union? Will the decline in maize was associated with major local epidemics of 34 production demonstrated now for both China and cholera, malaria, smallpox, and dysentery. London: Century. 1999. Keys, D. Catastrophe. 31 Newport, Rhode Island: Seven Seas Press. 1983. Stommel, H. Volcano weather: The story of 1816, the year without a winter. 32 Stommel, H, Stommel, E. op. cit. 33 34 Sen. op. cit.
20 18 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? Despite the advances in medical technology of the last half century, a global famine on the scale antic- A husband watches over his severely malnourished wife as ipated would provide the ideal breeding ground for she lies in agony at a camp for drought victims in Makalle, epidemics involving any or all of these illnesses. In northern Ethiopia. particular, the vast megacities of the developing world, crowded, and often lacking adequate sanita- tion in the best of times, would almost certainly see major outbreaks of infectious diseases; and ill- nesses, like plague, which have not been preva- lent in recent years might again become major health threats. Finally, we need to consider the immense potential for war and civil conflict that would be created by famine on this scale. Within nations where famine is widespread, there would almost certainly be food riots, and competition for limited food resources might well exacerbate ethnic and regional animosi- ties. Among nations, armed conflict would be a very real possibility as states dependent on imports attempted to maintain access to food supplies. It is impossible to estimate the additional global death toll from disease and further warfare that this “limited regional” nuclear war might cause, but, given the worldwide scope of the climate effects, the dead from these causes might well number in the hundreds of millions. UN PHOTO / JOHN ISAAC
21 19 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? UN PHOTO / PETER MAGUBANE According to the World Food Programme, the number of under- nourished people worldwide is just under 1 billion - equivalent to the population of North America and Europe combined.
22 20 NUCLEAR FAMINE: TWO BILLION PEOPLE AT RISK? Conclusions and recommendations The newly generated data on the decline in agricultural pro- duction that would follow a limited, regional nuclear war in South Asia raise the concern that a global famine could result, threatening more than two billion people. Epidemic disease and further conflict spawned by such a famine would put addi- tional hundreds of millions at risk. These findings support the following recommendations: There is an urgent need for further study to con- 1) firm the declines in corn, rice and wheat predict- ed by Ozdogan, Xia and their colleagues and to examine the effect on key crops in other impor- tant food producing countries. 2) There is a need to explore in more detail the sub- sequent effects that these shortfalls would have on human nutrition including both the extent of the decline in caloric intake that would result from these crop losses and the extent of micronutrient deficiencies that would, in turn, result from this decline in caloric intake. 3) The need for further study notwithstanding, the preliminary data in these studies raises a giant red flag about the threat to humanity posed not only by the nuclear arms race in South Asia but also by the larger and more dangerous nuclear arsenals possessed by the other nuclear weapons states. These studies demonstrate the need for additional research and underscore the urgent need to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a global agreement to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear war.
23 About the author Ira Helfand, a physician from Northampton, Massachusetts, has been writing and speaking about the medical consequences of nuclear war on behalf of IPPNW and its US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility, since the 1980s. For the past five years, he has been working with climate scientists Alan Robock, O. B. Toon, and others to help document the health and environmental disaster that would ensue from a range of possible nuclear wars. Questions, and comments can be directed to: [email protected] Physicians for Social Founded in 1961, International Physicians for the (IPPNW) is a Prevention of Nuclear War Responsibility (PSR), the US affiliate of IPPNW, is a non-profit organization that is federation of national medical organizations in 62 countries, representing doctors, med- the medical and public health voice for poli- ical students, other health workers, and con- cies to prevent nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming cerned citizens who share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world and toxic degradation of the environment. freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation. IPPNW received the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. 14th Street NW, Suite 700, 1111 66-70 Union Square, #204, Washington, DC, 20005 Somerville, MA 02143 Web: psr.org Web: ippnw.org
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