New Delhi: A new environmental study has revealed that if India and Pakistan wage a nuclear war, over 100 million people would be killed. The study looks at the hypothetical scenario of a India-Pakistan nuclear war in 2025 and shows that its effects would not be limited to South Asia alone.
Published in the journal Science Advances, the study was conducted by Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s distinguished professor Alan Robock and other scientists.
The research shows that such a nuclear war would substantially reduce the amount of sunlight reaching Earth, leading to reduced precipitation and causing a catastrophic decline in vegetation growth and ocean productivity — killing millions of people.
Grave environmental effects
The researchers state that India and Pakistan have a combined number of 400-500 nuclear weapons and if these were to be used, the effects would be catastrophic for the global environment.
“Such a war would threaten not only the locations where bombs might be targeted but the entire world,” said Robock.
The study shows that the environmental effects of a South Asian nuclear war would pan out in three stages.
First, the fires ignited by nuclear explosions could release 16 to 36 million tons of soot (which is black carbon) in smoke. This soot can then rise and enter the upper atmosphere, spreading across the world within a few weeks.
Second, this soot in the upper atmosphere would absorb massive quantities of solar radiation — which would heat the air and further lead to rise of smoke. As a consequence, sunlight reaching Earth would decline by 20 to 35 per cent. This would cool Earth’s surface temperature by 2 to 5 degree Celsius and a fall in precipitation by 15 to 20 per cent.
Third, lesser precipitation would have grave effects on vegetation growth and ocean productivity which would decline by 15 to 30 per cent and 5 to 15 per cent respectively.
Furthermore, the study also states that Earth could take at least 10 years to recover from this impact, as smoke would continue to linger in the upper atmosphere.
Kashmir and the possibility of a nuclear war
With the recent India-Pakistan dispute over Jammu and Kashmir, discussions about nuclear weapon use have once again surfaced in academic circles.
“Nine countries have nuclear weapons, but Pakistan and India are the only ones rapidly increasing their arsenals. Because of the continuing unrest between these two nuclear-armed nations, particularly over Kashmir, it is important to understand the consequences of a nuclear war,” said Robock.
According to researchers, India and Pakistan’s explosive power could potentially range from 15 kilotons to a few hundred by 2025. To put this in perspective, 15 kilotons is almost equal to the size of the nuclear bomb used by the United States in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
Towards global nuclear disarmament
The study said that in the probability of a nuclear war, if India and Pakistan use 100 and 150 strategic weapons respectively, the direct effects of it would kill about 50 to 125 million people. And there would be additional deaths from possible global mass starvation.
To prevent such a disastrous scenario, Robock prescribed a complete global nuclear disarmament.
“Nuclear weapons cannot be used in any rational scenario but could be used by accident or as a result of hacking, panic or deranged world leaders. The only way to prevent this is to eliminate them,” said Robock.
He also added that the findings of his study support the 2017 United Nations Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, a coalition of NGOs, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize for spearheading this campaign for the UN Treaty.