Vientiane – The 4th of April marks a very important occasion; the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The United Nations General Assembly declared this day of observation on the 8th of December 2008 to foster the establishment and development of national mine-action capacities in countries where Mines and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) constitute a serious threat to the local population.
The threat faced daily by the population of Lao PDR appears in the form of UXO contamination following the Indochina War in the 60s and 70s, where some 270 million Cluster Munition Bomblets were dropped on Lao PDR; of this total it is estimated that up to 30% would have failed to detonate. These UXO are, for the most part, buried beneath the surface, and are littered across the country with the threat being largely invisible, but universal.
This is where UXO/Mine Risk Education (MRE) has played its part in protecting the people of Lao PDR. MRE is vital in ensuring that villagers and school children alike are not only made aware of the risks posed by UXO and now to avoid them but are kept updated of the precise location of Confirmed Hazardous Areas within the communities.
The national UXO capacities have been working relentlessly to tackle this issue since 1996, through the establishment of the national operator, the Lao National UXO Programme (UXO Lao), by the Government of Lao PDR, UNDP and other development partners. UXO Lao is mandated to survey and clear the land of UXO but also to conduct UXO Risk Education and awareness raising in the 9 of the most heavily UXO-contaminated Provinces in which they operate. In 2019, UXO Lao conducted 358 MRE village visits, reaching over 254,000 beneficiaries, comprising of roughly 127,000 males and 127,000 females. They also distributed 1,500 t-shirts for adults, 1,700 t-shirts for children, 18,000 writing notebooks, 500 MRE posters, as well as puppets and banners.
These teams are both professional and creative, with their awareness raising activities coming in the form of songs, puppetry, imagery, games and a Q&A session. This allows easier access to information for young children, but also provides a learning forum for those across the country who speak many different ethnic languages or are unable to read or write.