Tackling the deadly legacy of war

Rice planting season is a nerve-wracking time for 49 year-old farmer Vongphone of Xieng Khouang province, in northern Lao. He was disabled five years ago when he accidentally set off an unexploded cluster bomb.

Highlights

  • UXO Lao started operations in 1996 and has cleared 30,000 hectares of land
  • MDG 9, a Lao national MDG, to reduce the impact of UXO, was adopted by the Government in 2010
  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions, that bans the use, production and stockpiling of cluster munitions, entered-into-force on 1 August 2010



Vongphone, who lost his left hand, is one of hundreds maimed or killed each year by explosive weapons - more than two million tonnes of which were dropped across the country by United States' aircraft between 1964 and 1973.



“I’m still afraid,” said Vongphone. “It’s hard for us because when we farm there are unexploded bombs. But we have to farm, otherwise we have no income.”
The majority of the nearly one hundred million cluster sub-munitions that failed to explode fell on some of the country’s poorest areas. More than 200,000 hectares of prime agricultural land remains to be cleared.



“We select about 22,000 hectares among those 200,000, which we can clear within 16-years,” said Maligna Saignavongs, senior government advisor to the Government’s National Regulatory Authority for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)/Mine Action (NRA).



The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported the national clearance operator, UXO Lao, in clearing around 24,000 hectares since starting operations in 1996.


A new 10-year government plan that focuses on clearing land in the 42 poorest at-risk districts is part of Lao PDR’s commitment under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.



The first meeting of states parties under the Convention, held in the country’s capital, Vientiane, in November 2010, adopted a declaration and action plan providing support to those countries dealing with UXO.



Saleumxay Kommasith, a Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hopes that the Vientiane Action Plan will result in more funding for national clearance efforts from the international community.


The number of UXO accidents nationwide in Lao PDR has fallen by nearly two thirds, from an average of 300 per year to 117 in 2010.