International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action: “An investment in humanity”

Apr 4, 2016

The new evidence-based approach to UXO survey and clearance scrutinises contamination on a village-by-village basis to establish Confirmed Hazardous Areas and better prioritise clearance, leading to greater efficiency in 2015.

4 April marks the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. This day was declared by the United Nations in 2005 with the aim to raise public awareness on the danger of unexploded ordnance and mines and mobilise necessary resources for addressing the problem worldwide, particularly in affected countries.

In 2016, we celebrate the 6th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international treaty that prohibits the use and stockpiling of these explosive remnants of war. Lao PDR hosted the First Meeting of State Parties in 2010, concluding with the signing of the Vientiane Action Plan. This plan - succeeded in 2015 by the Dubrovnik Action Plan - set out actions and timeframes for measurable progress in the global effort to clear the world of contamination by cluster munitions and prevent their future use.

Lao PDR is the most affected nation in the world as a result of heavy bombing during the Vietnam war. Large amounts of unexploded ordnance (UXO) continue to cause casualties and hinder the use of land for agriculture and development.  The worst affected areas in Laos are typically remote and poor communities.

Significant progress has been made in addressing this predicament.

First, casualties, from as many as 300 in 2008, are now consistently under 50 per year -  although this figure does not account for the effect on families and dependents.

Secondly, Lao PDR has expanded its direct cooperation with several regional and ASEAN neighbours, including Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Japan. This has included training, knowledge-sharing exchanges, provisions of vehicles and large equipment, and significant financial support.

Thirdly, huge areas of land have been cleared of UXO for safe use in agriculture and development. More than 1,500,000 UXO have been destroyed. And the whole effort, led by the Government of Lao PDR, is becoming more efficient under a new evidence-based methodology that focuses resources on areas of highest risk and contamination. This replaces an earlier approach where land clearance was based on requests from village communities. The new process sees operators scrutinise all information relating to UXO contamination on a village-by-village basis, before investigating each “evidence point” with detection equipment to establish the full extent of the Confirmed Hazardous Area. These areas are logged as tasks for clearance and will be prioritised according to development criteria. With the new approach, the number of cluster munitions found per hectare cleared has increased from 5 in 2014 to more than 22 in 2015.

However, the burden of managing such a massive problem remains heavy in Lao PDR, and the country faces many challenges common to states affected by explosive remnants of war. The country is one of many that needs support from the international community to address its huge UXO problem and to accelerate its UXO/mine action effort. With funding declining globally, a strategic approach is required.

The Government of Lao PDR and the United Nations will continue their partnership in the UXO sector to address these challenges, with a new programme starting in 2017. This is particularly important in the context of the new global agenda for development - the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These global Goals continue where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) left off, but are far more comprehensive, with all countries, regardless of development stage and wealth status, responsible and accountable for their implementation.

The work of the UXO sector contributes to several of the Goals. Lao PDR, however, has taken the SDGs a step further by creating its own localised Goal number 18: Reduced impact of UXO. Let us all hope that, with this renewed sign of commitment and a global push to achieve all SDGs, Lao PDR will be able to end this suffering that resulted from the war legacy and move to safer ground. Because, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently stated, mine action is “an investment in humanity”.

_________________________________

This article was co-authored by the Minister to the Government Office, H.E. Bounheuang Douangphachanh, chairman of the NRA and Kaarina Immonen, United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative and United Nations Resident Coordinator in Lao PDR.

For more information, please contact:

Ildiko Hamos-Sohlo, Communications Specialist, Head of Public Information Unit at UNDP: Tel: 021 267 778, Email: ildiko.hamos@undp.org