Reflecting on ICAN 2022 and what it means to represent your nation: Nyombi Morris

Sustainable Leaders | Africa

By Nyombi Morris, Climate Activist, and Isabel Rowbotham, Co-Editor in Chief

Published November 22nd, 2022

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Conference took place in Austria from the 18th to the 23rd of June 2022. The event brought together activists from all corners of the world to bring awareness to the risk of nuclear weapons. Nyombi Morris shares his experience attending the event and what possible humanitarian consequences of war mean for Africa.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has brought back the fear of war and the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons. The security we once took for granted is shattered as no country, no matter how far from the conflict, is free from the potential danger of nuclear war.

ICAN is the international campaign to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. They have partnered with states, activists and survivors to ratify the U.N. Treat on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons which was enforced in January 2021. | © Marlena Koenig for International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons / Flickr

Speaking at ICAN 2022

Nyombi Morris, a Ugandan environmental activist, spoke during the ICAN 2022 Nuclear Ban Forum: ‘In June I was privileged to attend the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) Conference in Vienna, Austria, under the Youth for Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), where I got a huge chance to listen to stories from the survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945,’ Nyombi explained.

It is estimated that Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, lost over 140,000 and 74,000 people respectively from acute exposure to the blasts. Those surviving today have long-term side effects of radiation. Exposure to radioactive material can increase the risk of developing cancer, chronic conditions and disabilities.

‘The 2022 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (HINW22Vienna) brought together activists from all corners of the world to bring awareness to the risk of nuclear weapons and humanitarian consequences.’

‘People had to reunite, recollect and rebuild, but that took decades.’ All of those who have learned about what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki can acknowledge the sadness and devastation.

Thoughts on the current threat of nuclear war

‘I cannot feel happy whenever there is nuclear conversation circulating, such as in the war happening right now in Ukraine. Russia seems to like nuclear testing but they do not look at the potential consequences for the environment, animals and humanity’.

Nyombi Morris spoke alongside fellow innovators and experts on the Nuclear Ban Forum at the Vienna Hub on the 19th of June, 2022. | International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons / Youtube.

What will nuclear war mean for communities already affected by past conflict and climate change? ‘Expect no life again. It will be a complete phase-out of humanity,’ Nyombi stated. War and conflict worldwide are already having a destructive impact on communities already suffering from a lack of access to food and clean water.

Recovering from war takes years and in many countries the consequences are generational. Right now, countries should be asking themselves about the reconstruction of infrastructure after the war and what it will take to get back to normal life. Before talking about nuclear armament, Nyombi asked nations to ponder on this question: ‘How are we going to live after such a war?’

‘Exposure to radioactive material can increase the risk of developing cancer, chronic conditions and disabilities.’

‘Now I hear Russia wants to launch nuclear weapons to fight Ukraine, which is extremely dangerous to both the environment and humanity. I believe my voice will be useful in this, and I have already tweeted about President Putin's nuclear policy.’ Nyombi continued, ‘I am so excited that I will be able to discuss it in civic spaces soon, most likely beginning next year, because I am learning more about it every day.’

What is the impact of nuclear war on African nations?

‘In the event of nuclear war, Africa will suffer. Not from the nuclear blast itself, but from the intense heat and fallout generated in other parts of the world. The fallout of a nuclear bomb is worrying because it may shift weather patterns. This will have a negative impact on Africa—we are not prepared for such drastic weather changes.’

Nyombi explained how a nuclear war would be an incredible burden on a continent where farming is already at risk due to climate change: ‘The atmosphere, soil, and water will be contaminated with nuclear dust. Crops will be harmed.’

Nyombi Morris speaking on day 2, ICAN. | © Marlena Koenig for International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons / Flickr

As all economies are globalised, famine and war may ravage the land due to the global supply chains collapse. Furthermore, appropriate help for the consequences of an ensuing economic collapse will not be accessible in Africa.

The war in Ukraine has already created a ripple effect on the global supply chain. The conflict has impeded the flow of goods such as wheat. This has been of great consequence, since Ukraine and Russia are the world’s third largest wheat producers and supply about 75% of sunflower oil globally. This has contributed to food shortages everywhere, an issue already exacerbated by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the tragic loss of lives in the war is the central aspect, we cannot overlook the worldwide consequences. Like a domino effect, the war has also disrupted oil and gas supplies and led to an energy crisis everywhere as the rise of oil prices continues to affect all of our lives.

‘Nuclear war would be an incredible burden on a continent where farming is already at risk due to climate change.’

‘You can see how the Ukrainian war has brought a lot of damage to Africa. Fuel prices are going up each and every day, and wheat export is no longer as easy as it was,’ Nyombi explained.

Africa and nations from other continents are already seeing the rise in fuel and food prices, inflation and financial instability. The continent, especially the Horn of Africa, has also experienced a persistent decline in rainfall leading to drought and starvation this year.

Recent wars in the African continent have already caused millions to flee their homes in hope of a safe life elsewhere. Further conflict and a nuclear war would create an unprecedented number of refugees. | Bjørn Heidenstrøm / Flickr

‘Furthermore, I see no reason to expect a nuclear attack on the African Continent itself because today’s colonial rule cannot allow the end of western countries taking everything they want from us, such as oil, coal, uranium, and gold.’

Making sure Africa is heard and included in the conversation

‘Some organisations prefer inviting those in the global north who they believe do not require a lot of support to attend the event physically. This makes it difficult for us in Africa, whose countries are unprepared for nuclear war, to share our perspectives.’

It is essential to understand how a nuclear war and its fallout could affect countries outside the global north. Youth for TPNW is promoting inclusivity by inviting activists like Nyombi and others like him. ‘I was fortunate to be among those chosen by Youth for TPNW and funded by ICAN to attend this year's Nuclear Ban Week in Vienna.’

‘It is essential to understand how a nuclear war and its fallout will affect countries outside the global north.’

What are the challenges you encounter when trying to access these events?

Humanitarian campaigning is now more accessible due to the internet. ‘When major events are scheduled, many organisations post links on social media and in groups asking youth in related sectors to apply; sometimes we get through, but sometimes we are denied visas. This is for one reason: we are young and some believe we might not return home after the event.’

African nation leaders and activists are reflecting on how nuclear war would affect their continent, and conferences like ICAN which bring in the youth’s perspective from many corners of the world have the potential to raise awareness of the consequences.

Like Nyombi, many activists living in African nations are raising awareness of climate change and other threats using social media. This visibility is extraordinarily precious: it is creating a new generation of informed, thoughtful and action-driven young people who are demanding to live in a safe world.

If you want to get involved in the youth movement against nuclear weapons and nuclear war, click here to share your ideas, fundraise and be part of the day-to-day operations.

Featured Image: © Marlena Koenig for International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | Flickr

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