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Nuclear Famine Report: Limited Nuclear Exchange in One of World's Regions Would Trigger Mass Global Starvation After Slashing Chinese, U.S. Food Production

April 24, 2012

CHICAGO, IL.///April 25, 2012///More than a billion people around the world would face starvation following a limited regional nuclear weapons exchange (such as a clash between India and Pakistan) that would cause major worldwide climate disruption  driving down food production in China, the U.S. and other nations, according to a major new report released today by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its US affiliate, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

Dr. Ira Helfand, the author of “Nuclear Famine: A Billion People at Risk—Global Impacts of Limited Nuclear War on Agriculture, Food Supplies, and Human Nutrition,” said:  “The grim prospect of nuclear famine requires a fundamental change in our thinking about nuclear weapons.   The new evidence that even the relatively small nuclear arsenals of countries such as India and Pakistan could cause long lasting, global damage to the Earth’s ecosystems and threaten hundreds of millions of already malnourished people demands that action be taken.  The needless and preventable deaths of one billion people over a decade would be a disaster unprecedented in human history.  It would not cause the extinction of the human race, but it would bring an end to modern civilization as we know it.”

The findings and the methodology on which the study is based will be published in a forthcoming issue of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change. Released during the World Summit of Nobel Laureates in Chicago April 23-25, 2012, the Helfand report was made possible with the financial support of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

Among the specific findings outlined in the report:

  • Corn production in the US would decline by an average of 10 percent for an entire decade, with the most severe decline (20 percent) in Year 5. Soybean production would decline by about 7 percent, with the most severe loss, more than 20 percent, in Year 5.
  • There would be a significant decline in middle-season rice production in China. During the first four years, rice production would decline by an average of 21 percent; over the next six years the decline would average 10 percent.
  • Resulting increases in food prices would make food inaccessible to hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest. Even if agricultural markets continued to function normally, 215 million people would be added to the rolls of the malnourished over the course of a decade. The 925 million people in the world who are already chronically malnourished (with a baseline consumption of 1,750 calories or less per day), would be put at risk by a further 10 percent decline in their food consumption.
  • Significant agricultural shortfalls over an extended period would almost certainly lead to panic and hoarding on an international scale, further reducing accessible food.

The IPPNW/PSR report concludes: “There is an urgent need to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons by all nuclear weapons states and to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a nuclear weapons convention that will ban these weapons completely.”

Commenting on the report, Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, a member of the governing board of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the former UN Under Secretary General of Disarmament Affairs, said:  “Scientific evidence continues to confirm empirically what we already know - that nuclear weapons are the most destructive weapon of mass destruction ever invented with unrivaled genetic and ecological effects. And yet, unlike biological and chemical weapons, they have not been outlawed because of vested interests. Nine countries have 20,530 nuclear warheads among them 95 percent with the US and Russia. As long as these weapons exist others, including terrorists, will want them. As long as we have nuclear weapons their use by intention or accident; by states or by non-state actors is inevitable. Their total elimination through a Nuclear Weapons Convention is therefore the only solution."

Former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the founding chairman, Green Cross International, said:  "I am convinced that nuclear weapons must be abolished. Their use in a military conflict is unthinkable; using them to achieve political objectives is immoral. Over twenty-five years ago, President Ronald Reagan and I ended our summit meeting in Geneva with a joint statement that 'nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,' and this new study underscores in stunning and disturbing detail why this is the case and why we must discard Cold War-style plans for the possible use of these weapons and move rapidly to eliminating them from the world's arsenals."

Dr. Helfand is the North American vice president of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and a past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Working with data produced by scientists who have studied the climate effects of a hypothetical nuclear war between India and Pakistan, Dr. Helfand and a team of experts in agriculture and nutrition determined that plunging temperatures and reduced precipitation in critical farming regions, caused by soot and smoke lofted into the atmosphere by multiple nuclear explosions, would interfere with crop production and affect food availability and prices worldwide.  


Physicians for Social Responsibility is the largest physician-led organization in the U.S. working to prevent nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming without using expensive, unsafe nuclear power and toxic degradation of the environment. PSR’s 50,000 health professionals and concerned citizen members and e-activists, 30 PSR chapters, and 41 student PSR chapters at medical and public health schools, along with national and chapter staff, form a unique nationwide network committed to a safer and healthy world. For more information, go to on the Web.

The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War is a non-partisan federation of national medical organizations in 63 countries, representing tens of thousands of doctors, medical students, other health workers, and concerned citizens who share the common goal of creating a more peaceful and secure world freed from the threat of nuclear annihilation.  See on the Web.

CONTACT:  Will Harwood, for PSR, +1 (703) 276-3255 or

EDITOR’S NOTE:  A streaming audio replay of a related news event will be available on the Web on April 24, 2012 at 1 p.m. EDT/noon CDT/6 p.m. London BST/10 p.m. Lahore PKT/10:30 p.m. Mumbai IST at  

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