India And Pakistan Have To De-Escalate Tensions

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Dr Arun Mitra

War is the one of the most serious
threat to public health with catastrophic effects on infrastructure &
environment and accounts for more deaths and disability than many major
diseases combined. It destroys families, communities and sometimes-whole
cultures. It channels limited resources away from health and other social

The escalation of tension between
India and Pakistan has to be viewed in that context. When the tension persists
there is always an imminent danger of its entering into larger war. Warning
about such situations, Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Vinod Saighal in a letter to the Prime
Minister in 1990 had written “another war between India and Pakistan could
result in physical suicide for Pakistan, economic suicide for India and a
catastrophe for the subcontinent”. It holds true now as well, even more
so. Events in the last few days are witness to it. In wars, wellbeing of people
is the chief concern; their livelihood, health, nutrition and other needs all
become uncertain.

The issue in the present context is of
much more seriousness as both India and Pakistan are one of the most deprived
in the world. The priorities in the two countries have to be to correct the
abysmally poor human development index of 130 and 150 in India and Pakistan
respectively. Hunger index of India at 103 and Pakistan at 106 out of 119
countries is a matter of grave concern. War will mean destruction and further
deprivation, hunger, disease, mental problems and unprecedented loss of life.

Health effects during war times range
from displacements, injuries, incapacitation, mental stress, lack of food,
under nutrition, starvation and death. During the two world wars around 9 crore
people are reported to have died.  In 1965
Indo-Pak war which lasted for 17 days the Indian army suffered 11,479
casualties with 2862 killed and 8617 wounded and according to Indian records
5800 Pakistanis were killed. Inter-communal violence between Hindus, Sikhs and
Muslims at the time of partition resulted in between 500,000 and 1 million
casualties. Deaths and disabilities due to ongoing terrorist violence for a
long time is an issue of grave concern. It causes of further escalation of
tension and a precursor to war.

During war times there occur large
number of displacements from near the border areas and people have to live in
the refugee camps. There were 21.3 million refugees worldwide in 2015. The
health indicators of refugee population are poorer than the communities from
which they come. They are more prone to diarrheal diseases, measles, acute
respiratory infections, malaria, malnutrition and other infectious diseases.
The incidence of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV transmission are high in
refugee camps due to engagement with sex workers, rape, and insufficient access
to reproductive health services.

Refugee camps are generally away from
the main population and poorly accessible by road, and lack basic amenities
like clean drinking water supply, proper sewerage system and have a limited
power supply. The high mobility of the refugee setting, with the constant
inflow and outflow of people, presents a unique challenge because it is
difficult to provide sustained care over a period of time.

Loss of family life, death of near and
dears, uncertainty of the future leads to extreme mental stress; the children
are more likely to be affected. They are likely to develop Post Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD). Women and children are worst sufferers as they are more
vulnerable to be abused. All this affects their behavior even after the things
get settled down and they return to their native places.

The International Physicians for the
Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in its Aiming for Prevention – International
Initiatives on small arms had carried out One Bullet Stories by its IPPNW-Kenya
affiliate. The One Bullet Story (OBS) is about the people, their stories, and
the injuries caused by the guns and bullets. It was done with the aim to infuse
the human face into the campaign against armed violence by highlighting the
plight of the victims through their experiences and powerful testimony. Health
professionals are in the front lines as the primary witnesses of the horrific
impact of firearm violence.

The Ottawa Process that led to the
Mine Ban Treaty achieved its high level of success largely through the exposure
of the plight of the victims and survivors of the mine explosions. It is the
gruesome photos of the innocent and unsuspecting civilians injured by the
Antipersonnel Mines (APMs) that created the public outcry and attracted high
profile personalities like the late Princess Diana to the campaign. The
initiators of this outcry were the International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) field surgeons such as Robin Coupland MD who brought the focus of the
international community to bear on the indiscriminate and horrific nature of
landmine injuries.

Nuclear weapons have totally changed
the war scenario. Testimonies by the Hibakusha (Atomic Bomb Survivors of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki) would move any one. It is of utmost urgency that tension
between India and Pakistan has to be deescalated. Present day bombs are much
more deadly compared to those dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even a limited
nuclear war would put over 2 billion people at risk. It is through highlighting
the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons that the IPPNW and the International
Campaign to abolish nuclear weapons (ICAN) played a vital role in getting the
Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) passed in the UN General Assembly in
July 2017 and won the organization Nobel Peace Prize that year.

There is no place for Jingoism in such
situation. Any talk of war today means mutually assured destruction. Nothing is
more precious than a healthy life of our children.  There is no place for Jingoism in such situation.
Any talk of war today means mutually assured destruction. There is need for
confidence building and collectively combating terrorist menace with sincere
efforts. Nothing is more precious than a healthy life of our children.

(IPA Service)

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