It is unfortunate that an event that concerns the very existence of life on earth is hardly under debate and is poorly reported. With Honduras submitting its document of ratification to the UNO on October 24, the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) has now been ratified by 50 countries. This fulfills the criteria for its entry into force.
The treaty is now set to be operational within 90 days from the ratification, that is on January 20, 2021 the treaty will become international law binding on the states that have already ratified it and those which subsequently ratify the treaty. This is a great step forward to eliminate nuclear weapons and save the mankind from extinction. This is all the more important as several parts of the world are now under low level conflicts and some parts of the world witnessing full scale war with the blatant intervention of big powers. Any escalation could trigger the use of nuclear weapons.
We have witnessed atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan on 6th and 9th August 1945. The two incidents led to the death of over 200000 people and rendered destitute many more. Blast was so powerful that large buildings also crumbled. Temperature generated by the bombs was so high that even the concrete buildings around the epicentre could not withstand that and melted what to talk of the people and other life systems in that area. There was total chaos in the two cities with no one to take care. This was reported by none other than Dr Marcel Junod from the International Red Cross who was the first foreigner to visit Hiroshima in September 1945. Radiations all around made the situation much worse and the effect has been passed to the next generation in form of malformed babies and cancers.
All this has been testified several times by the Hibakusha, the survivors of atomic bombing.
There are nearly 2000 nuclear weapons on high alert. Studies have shown that even if one per cent of the existing nearly 14000 nuclear weapons are used, there will be global nuclear icing leading to crop failure, nuclear famine and will put over two billion people at risk . Any nuclear exchange between the two major nuclear powers could be an end of the human civilisation built through thousands of years of human labour.
Situation now is so complex that even if the states decide not to use nuclear weapons, their being used under natural catastrophe, use by the terrorist groups or the cyber criminals cannot be ruled out.
The TPNW is an opportunity which the global society must utilise. The nuclear weapons possessing countries are already spending huge amounts in further updating and strengthening their nuclear arsenal. The US has shown no intention to carry forward the START-2 which is to expire on February 5, 2021. Moreover that is a bilateral treaty. The TPNW is a global treaty passed by the UNO on July 7, 2017 with 122 votes in favour and only one against and one abstention.
The whole process has not been easy. The peace forces around the globe have been advocating for a comprehensive treaty which would lead to nuclear weapons abolition. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) was awarded Nobel peace prize in 1985 for highlighting the Humanitarian Consequences of nuclear war. It took initiative to unite all the peace movements under the banner of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
Adoption of treaty by the UNO was largely a result of massive campaigning, lobbying and advocacy by the ICAN who were able to convince the governments of different countries to join the treaty. For this the ICAN was bestowed with Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Passage of treaty despite immense pressure by the nuclear weapon countries on the smaller states is a moral defeat for the big nuclear powers.
The disastrous effects of the nuclear weapons have no cure. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Red Cross have now confirmed that emergency services would not be able to respond in such a catastrophic health emergencies. Prevention is the only answer. TPNW is an opportunity.
We have treaties that prohibit the use of Landmines, Cluster Munitions, Chemical Weapons and the Biological Weapons. These treaties have been holding good and helped save the mankind. The nuclear weapons are much more deadly. Therefore it is imperative that the TPNW must be respected and joined by all the countries of the world. The nine nuclear weapon countries out of which five are in Asia bear special responsibility in this situation.
An ENT Surgeon based at Ludhiana, Punjab, the author is Co-President, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW).