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IPPNW statement on how WHO could advance the planetary health imperative to eradicate nuclear weapons

October 29, 2021

IPPNW was pleased to have the opportunity for the first time to make a statement to the World Health Organization Western Pacific Region Committee on how WHO could advance the planetary health imperative to eradicate nuclear weapons.

Statement to WHO WPRO Regional Committee Meeting, Oct 2021 by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW)

Presented by Tilman Ruff, Co-President 18 Oct 21

The WHA’s response to WHO’s first 1983 report on “The effects of nuclear war on health and health services” concluded that: “nuclear weapons constitute the greatest immediate threat to the health and welfare of [hu]mankind.”  The second 1987 report underscored that: “It is obvious that the health services in the world could not alleviate the situation in any significant way” and “Therefore the only approach to the treatment of health effects of nuclear warfare is primary prevention, that is, the prevention of nuclear war.” It discussed then new scientific findings that after nuclear war, global cooling would create unprecedented famine and disease epidemics.

To our knowledge, the last time the health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons were reported on to RC was in WPR/RC46/INF.DOC./3 (1995), when the RC deplored the testing of nuclear weapons and called on governments to desist immediately (WPR/RC46.R1). They noted that, “nuclear weapons still exist in great numbers and their production has not ceased altogether” but judged that: “a nuclear war is unlikely.”

In the decades since, a great deal has changed. Three additional states possess nuclear weapons. The number of deployed nuclear weapons, and on high alert, ready to be launched within minutes, is again growing. Several nuclear arms control treaties have been abandoned and no new ones have replaced them or are being negotiated. All nine nuclear-armed states are increasing nuclear weapons numbers and/or modernising them to be more flexible, accurate, faster, and stealthier. Nuclear command and control systems are vulnerable to burgeoning cyberwarfare. The Doomsday Clock was last year moved to 100 seconds to midnight, where it remains, further forward than ever before, with the assessment that: “The international security situation is now more dangerous than it has ever been, even at the height of the Cold War”. The UN Secretary-General stated on 28 Sep 2021: “we face the highest level of nuclear risk in almost four decades. … States are qualitatively improving their arsenals, and we are seeing worrying signs of a new arms race. These weapons are not yesterday’s problem. They remain today’s threat. … humanity remains unacceptably close to nuclear annihilation.”

Understanding of the catastrophic impacts of nuclear weapons has increased, most significantly regarding their climatic effects. Even a regional nuclear war using less than 2% of the global nuclear arsenal would loft millions of tons of sooty smoke into the stratosphere, blanketing the globe, rapidly dropping temperatures 4-8°C to ice age levels. Cold, dark and dry conditions would last over a decade, reducing primary productivity on land and sea by as much as all current human consumption, putting billions of people at risk of starvation. Recommendations:

1. WHO should produce updated information and education materials on the health impacts of nuclear weapons.

2. WHO should create awareness that planetary health requires a stable and hospitable climate, secure from both overheating and ice age conditions abruptly created by nuclear war.

3. WHO should provide advice and technical assistance to member states wishing to act on their obligations under the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to assist the victims of, and remediate areas contaminated by, nuclear use and testing.

Watch the video presentation by IPPNW Co-President, Dr. Tilman Ruff at https://extranet.wpro.who.int/…/RC72_Statement%20Agenda…

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