Convention on Cluster Munitions enhances UXO action in Lao PDR

Aug 1, 2016

A man walks amongst UXO remnants in Xieng Khouang Province. Photo: UNDP Lao PDR/Joseph Wenkoff

1 August 2016 marks the sixth anniversary of the Entry Into Force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Convention is an international treaty that prohibits the use, production, transfer and storage of these explosive weapons. For Lao PDR, one of the most bombed countries in the world, this is a significant date.

Clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) has taken place ever since the end of the Second Indochina War in 1975, initially by affected farmers and communities themselves, at great risk, later with the support of international charities and specialised international NGOs.

In 1996, the Government of Lao PDR, with UNDP’s support, established a national operator to address the problem of remaining UXO: UXO Lao. This year marks 20 years of collaboration in support of UXO Lao, during which it has become the backbone of the country’s efforts to rid itself of these remnants of war.

In these past 20 years, UXO Lao has cleared more than 300 square kilometres of land for safe use, destroyed more than 1.3 million UXO and made more than 11,000 visits to villages to teach communities about the risks of unexploded bombs.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which Lao PDR was the second signatory after Norway, has made a vast contribution to supporting the country and UXO Lao in its efforts. The Convention provided a framework for Lao PDR to collaborate with other countries and partners to understand and address its land contamination issue, and recent years have shown the fruits of this cooperation.

Since 2014, UXO Lao has implemented a technical survey methodology to make its location and destruction of bombs more efficient, resulting in a huge increase in the number of cluster munitions found per square metre. This approach allows Lao PDR to work towards a full national survey, covering the whole of the country to account for the entirety of known cluster munition contamination. Gaining a full understanding of the extent of the problem is a requirement to which Lao PDR country obliged itself under the Convention.

Understanding the problem is also an opportunity to move forward on a more ambitious agenda for the UXO sector:  Maximising the contribution of UXO activities to reduce poverty and allow for better incomes will be at the heart of a local Sustainable Development Goal number 18. This goal is the Lao addition to the 17 global goals that all UN Member States adopted in 2015 as a follow-up to the expired Millennium Development Goals. These goals are set to move the globe onto a sustainable development path, with 2030 as a target date.

Currently, UNDP and the Government of Lao PDR are in the advanced stages of designing their joint actions in the UXO sector for the next five years, with a strengthened focus on better ways of gaining income for all people. UNDP will continue to be the key partner of the Government in order to ensure that UXO action fully contributes to the development of the country.