ICRC stresses lack of capacity to provide relief in case of nuclear attack

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday that there is a lack of capacity at the international level to provide necessary humanitarian support to survivors in case of a nuclear explosion.

The ICRC made the statement ahead of the international conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that is planned for Oslo on Monday and Tuesday. The conference is a unique opportunity to discuss the consequences of any use of nuclear arms.

"The sheer number of people likely to be in need of help would be enormous," Peter Maurer, the president of ICRC, said. "The challenges involved in bringing relief to survivors in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion would be immense. To name only a few, humanitarian agencies would need to organize the triage, treatment and possible decontamination of very large numbers of injured victims, many of them severely burned, and their transfer out of affected areas. There would also be significant concerns about the safety of those providing assistance and the risk associated with their exposure to ionizing radiation."

The ICRC and other agencies recently conducted a study that found that it would be highly unlikely that the massive investments needed to expand the capability to provide effective relief to survivors would ever be made. If the contributions were made, they might still be insufficient to help survivors of nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical weapons.

The ICRC does not discourage efforts, however, to meet the challenges and be prepared to provide as much help as needed, in case of the unthinkable.

"Our organization observed the effects of a nuclear explosion in the aftermath of the Hiroshima bombing in 1945," Maurer said. "Today, we are again calling on all states, irrespective of whether they consider nuclear weapons to be lawful or not, to ensure that these devices are never used, to take measures to limit the risk of proliferation and to pursue negotiations on a complete ban on and elimination of nuclear weapons."

Maurer is part of the ICRC's delegation and will speak on Monday at the conference. Gregor Malich, the head of the ICRC's nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical response unit, will also speak at the conference.