5 billion people could die due to famine after a nuclear war between the US and Russia

We might all starve.
Nergis Firtina
Nuclear war aftermath
Nuclear war aftermath


  • Researchers from Rutgers University calculated the possible effects of nuclear wars.
  • The result shows that a nuclear war between countries such as Russia and USA could kill billions and cause starvation within two years.
  • It also demonstrates that large deficits would arise in imports due to the depletion of crops.

Every human being is afraid of nuclear war beyond any doubt. Researchers went into overdrive to see what would happen when a nuclear war broke out, dangerous enough to bring the end of humanity as well as all life on Earth.

According to a global study led by Rutgers University, if a nuclear war outbreak between USA and Russia, more than 5 billion people would die because of hunger.

"The data tell us one thing: We must prevent a nuclear war from ever happening," said Alan Robock, a Distinguished Professor of climate science in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University and co-author of the study. Lili Xia, an assistant research professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers, is the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Food.

Building on past research, Xia, Robock, and their colleagues worked to calculate how much sun-blocking soot would enter the atmosphere from firestorms that the detonation of nuclear weapons would ignite. By doing so, researchers took six war scenarios, such as small India-Pakistan and large USA-Russian Federation war, to calculate soot dispersal.

From the smallest nuclear scenario to the biggest one: What would happen?

By the smallest scenario, the nuclear war between India and Pakistan would lead to a decrease of 7% of the global average caloric production in five years. However, in the largest war scenario — between USA and Russia — global average caloric production decreased by about 90 percent three to four years after the fighting.

It is also thought that large deficits would arise in imports due to the depletion of crops. This situation would also prevail for Russia and America, which are considered the superpowers of the world.

"Future work will bring even more granularity to the crop models. For instance, the ozone layer would be destroyed by the heating of the stratosphere, producing more ultraviolet radiation at the surface, and we need to understand that impact on food supplies," Xia said.

5 billion people could die due to famine after a nuclear war between the US and Russia
The global averaged calorie intake two years after a potential nuclear war.
Nature Foods  

"If nuclear weapons exist, they can be used, and the world has come close to nuclear war several times," Robock said. "Banning nuclear weapons is the only long-term solution. The five-year-old UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has been ratified by 66 nations, but none of the nine nuclear states. Our work makes clear that it is time for those nine states to listen to science and the rest of the world and sign this treaty".

The Rutgers-led study was conducted with scholars at institutions around the world, including Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Louisiana State University, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Colorado Boulder, and the Queensland University of Technology.

Study abstract

Atmospheric soot loadings from nuclear weapon detonation would cause disruptions to the Earth’s climate, limiting terrestrial and aquatic food production. Here, we use climate, crop, and fishery models to estimate the impacts arising from six scenarios of stratospheric soot injection, predicting the total food calories available in each nation post-war after stored food is consumed. In quantifying impacts away from target areas, we demonstrate that soot injections larger than 5 Tg would lead to mass food shortages, and livestock and aquatic food production would be unable to compensate for reduced crop output, in almost all countries. Adaptation measures such as food waste reduction would have a limited impact on increasing available calories. We estimate more than 2 billion people could die from a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and more than 5 billion could die from a war between the United States and Russia—underlining the importance of global cooperation in preventing nuclear war.

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