A nuclear war between Russia and the United States could cause about 5 billion people, nearly two-thirds of the world's population, to starve because of the catastrophic disruptions that would occur in food supplies as the resulting soot and ash would block the sun from reaching crops, according to a new study.
"The data tell us one thing: We must prevent a nuclear war from ever happening," climate scientist Alan Robock, co-author of a Rutgers University study published Monday in the journal Nature Food, commented in a statement, reports The Washington Post.
Even a smaller-scale nuclear war between rivals Pakistan and India, for example, would also cause 2.5 billion people to starve, as it would kill food supplies while cutting global production by 7% in the following five years.
In either case, the food insecurity that would come after a nuclear war would kill more people than the bombs, the study reveals.
In the research, scientists examined wind patterns and how they would spread fire and smoke from nuclear attacks over the U.S. and China, two major food exporters. The results would block sunlight, collapsing harvests, and lead to a 90% drop in crop yields, fishing, and animal production within four years.
The news comes as Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's growing military drills near Taiwan are renewing concerns about nuclear conflict.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his nuclear forces are "combat ready," and China has been conducting drills near Taiwan after U.S. officials, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, visited the island.
Food security is already under threat because of climate change, the Ukraine war, and the coronavirus, according to the World Food Program, which reports that 345 million people are facing insecurity, compared to 200 million before the pandemic.
India and Malaysia are already limiting exports of wheat and chicken, and fears of global conflict, even without nuclear strikes, could bring more countries to withhold food supplies, and the "psychological impact can be greater than the actual damage," said William Chen, a food science professor at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and the director of a government-affiliated food safety program.
Countries must prepare for disaster by moving away from traditional farming methods and toward alternative food sources, such as mushroom or indoor farming, and increasing insect protein production, Chen said, as they don't require as much room and "rely less on an environment exposed to nuclear war."
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