Nuclear weapons can destroy development in an instant

On the final day of International Development Week, we are looking at what is described as the most destructive and inhumane weapon to exist: nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have the power to completely destroy entire cities, killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in an instant. But they don’t stop there. Nuclear weapons not only have catastrophic short-term effects, but also long-term effects on people and the environment. 

The short-term effects of a nuclear weapon completely destroys any development in the targeted city. Almost all of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) would be negatively impacted or even impossible with the detonation of a nuclear bomb. A singular nuclear weapon can destroy thousands of homes, hospitals, schools, roads, water facilities, grocery stores, and more. A concerning point to keep in mind is that the only nuclear bombs to be used in war time, the ones detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had a kiloton (kt) force of 15 kt and 20 kt respectively. A modern nuclear weapon can have a kiloton force of at least 100, and up to 300 kilotons, and there are approximately 13,000 of these weapons in the world right now. 

Any sustainable development goal that relates to individual or community health is instantly destroyed, or set back decades. If a community or city no longer exists, or more than half of its population has been killed and infrastructure destroyed, goals such as good health and well-being and quality education are doomed for that area. 

The immediate effects of nuclear attack would affect the following SDGs: No Poverty (SDG #1), Zero Hunger (SDG #2), Good Health and Well-Being (SDG #3), Quality Education (SDG #4), Gender Equality (SDG #5), Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG #6), Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG #7) , Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG #8), Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure (SDG #9), Reduced Inequalities (SDG #10), Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG #11), Life on Land (SDG #15), and Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions (SDG #16). All of these goals relate to building a stronger community through infrastructure and planning as well as the protection of people and the environment. A nuclear blast would either instantly destroy the infrastructure needed to deliver these goals, and/or kill the people who the goals are meant to be achieved for. 

The connection between the destruction of an entire city and sustainable development is now clear, so we are going to look at how nuclear weapons harm the environment which in turn affects sustainable development. Nuclear bombs are radioactive and toxic to people, animals, and the environment. Mining uranium, testing the weapons, and dumping the waste all harm the environment before the weapon is even used. Contamination from nuclear weapons facilities, tests, and in Hiroshima and Nagasaki lasts decades. That is decades of unsafe water, unfarmable land, incurable cancer, and unimaginable harm long after the initial blast. 

This of course affects sustainable development as land and water is unusable for decades without risk of radiation. Scientists also predict that if even a small-scale regional nuclear war were to take place, the environmental effects would lead to a world-wide famine in which up to 2 billion people could die. The smoke and dust from the blasts would change the climate and lower crop yields by 90%. This threatens multiple SDGs, most notably Zero Hunger (SDG #2) and Good Health and Well-Being (SDG #3). 

We can’t let this happen. Weapons today are even more destructive than the enormous blasts that killed and injured hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even though none have been used in combat since 1945, over two thousand more nuclear weapons have been tested. We need to listen to survivors of these attacks and tests and ban these inhumane weapons. Nuclear weapons can destroy sustainable development in an instant, and we can’t let that happen.