as the scenes of the tsunami devastation in Asia
are, there is an even deeper calamity awaiting
humanity if the world does not wake up to nuclear
dangers. It is heart-breaking to see the images
of bloated corpses, traumatized children, wrecked
buildings, frantic rescue-workers, and countless
hands outstretched for food and water. The scale
of the disaster in the countries around the Bay
of Bengal is overpowering. Nations around the
world, slow at first to respond, are now pouring
aid into the stricken areas.
is, as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said,
"an unprecedented global catastrophe" and it has
reached into our hearts and souls.
wonders what God's role is in this. After all,
the earthquake happened far beneath the surface
of the earth. While tsunami-warning devices were
sadly lacking in that part of the world, the primary
cause of the suffering appears to be an act of
nature, far beyond human ability to control.
avalanches, floods, hurricanes - all these terrors
seem part of our planetary system. But on the
human journey through time, we have learned to
some degree to cope with the ravages of nature.
this instance, with millions made homeless and
desperate for life-sustaining materials, the suffering
of the survivors seems immense. Yet there is a
physical infrastructure remaining from the tsunami:
planes with relief supplies can land at airports,
trucks can carry foodstuffs and water along roads,
medical personnel are on hand. It is terrible,
but survival is possible.
lesson we ought to draw from this experience is
that governments and civil society must avert
an even worse catastrophe that would be set off
by a nuclear weapons attack. For the result of
such an act would be the destruction of the very
infrastructure that is required to help survivors.
many people think the nuclear weapons problem
has gone away. It hasn't. There are some 34,000
nuclear weapons in existence, and the United States
and Russia keep about 5,000 on hair-trigger alert
in which they could be fired on 15 minutes' notice.
Terrorists are trying to acquire nuclear weapons
materials; if they had used a nuclear device at
Ground Zero in New York on September 11, hundreds
of thousands of people would have died immediately
with millions of survivors left in a radiation-poisoned
atmosphere and health, food and transportation
services broken down.
years ago, the distinguished scientist Carl Sagan
did a study, "Nuclear Winter," in which he explored
the unforeseen and devastating physical and chemical
effects of even a small-scale nuclear war on the
earth's biosphere and life on earth.
more or less typical strategic warhead has a yield
of 2 megatons, the explosive equivalent of 2 million
tons of TNT. In a 2-megaton explosion over a city,
buildings would be vaporized, people reduced to
atoms and shadows, outlying structures blown down
like matchsticks and raging fires ignited. Nuclear
explosions and ground bursts would cut off sunlight,
temperatures would plunge, crops and farm animals
would be destroyed, and the poisonous effects
of radiation would sweep across hundreds of miles.
Epidemics and pandemics would be rampant. The
threshold for nuclear winter, Sagan said, is very
low. Parallel studies by the United Nations showed
that indirect effects of nuclear winter could
kill millions more through the breakdown of communications,
transportation and financial systems.
is nearly 60 years since the first use of the
atomic bomb. Far from getting rid of them, the
major nations are now embedding nuclear weapons
into their war-fighting nuclear doctrines. Only
through luck - or is it the hand of God? - have
we been able to escape a nuclear explosion through
design or accident.
God now speaking to us through the tsunami disaster?
Is God saying: look at the terrible problems you
have dealing with the effects of a natural disaster,
but at least you have the infrastructure to enable
the survivors to be helped? Why don't you wake
up to the total calamity of a nuclear weapon explosion
and realize you won't be able to cope with such
a human-made disaster?
don't know if God is so speaking. What I do know
is that every day humanity tolerates the continuance
of nuclear weapons, we are one day closer to the
ultimate disaster for humanity.
Roche is a former Senator from Alberta and author
of "The Human Right to Peace."