Health Federations Cite Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Joint Appeal for Prohibition and Elimination

(02.05.2016) The leading international federations representing the world's physicians, public health professionals, and nurses have told a special UN working group that the medical and scientific evidence about the consequences of nuclear weapons requires urgent action to prohibit and eliminate them as the only course of action commensurate with the existential danger they pose.

International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), the World Medical Association (WMA), the World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA), and the International Council of Nurses (ICN) have submitted a joint working paper—“The health and humanitarian case for banning and eliminating nuclear weapons to the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG), which holds its main meeting in Geneva this week to decide what new legal measures are needed to achieve nuclear disarmament. The OEWG will report back to the UN General Assembly later this year.

The working paper summarizes the evidence presented at three international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, emphasising that:

  • a nuclear war with weapons in existing arsenals could kill many more people in a few hours than were killed during the entire Second World War;
  • radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons lingers in the environment, causing cancers and other illnesses over generations;
  • Fewer than one percent of the nuclear weapons in the world today could disrupt the global climate and cause a nuclear famine;
  • The thousands of weapons in the world's largest arsenals could trigger a global ecological collapse in a nuclear winter; 
  • a meaningful medical and humanitarian response to aid the survivors of nuclear conflict is impossible.

The four federations told OEWG participants that they have “a unique opportunity and a shared responsibility to take leadership on nuclear disarmament by reframing the goal as a humanitarian-based process for banning and eliminating nuclear weapons.” They urged the OEWG to “assert the need for a new treaty that…explicitly prohibit[s]…nuclear weapons, based on their unacceptable consequences.”

The working paper is available at, or contact