Massive land area awaiting UXO clearance
Much work remains to be done in Laos to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO), which continues to be a huge threat to human life and an obstacle to development.
Representatives from the government and development partners spoke about this persistent scourge at an event held in Vientiane yesterday to mark this year's International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.
Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Dr Khampheng Saysompheng noted that Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita.
More than 580,000 flights dropped around 3 million tonnes of bombs on Lao territory during the nine years of the war (1964-1973). Some 270 million of the dropped bombs were cluster munitions (bombies), and four million were larger munitions.
Dr Saysompheng said experts calculated that around 30 percent of the dropped bombs remained unexploded, meaning more than 80 million bombies and millions of big bombs lie dormant in the ground. One third or about 87,000 square kilometres of the country's territory is contaminated with bombs.
“With 41 out of the 46 poorest districts contaminated by UXO the link between UXO and poverty is clear to see. UXO contamination is a barrier to socio-economic development,” Dr Saysompheng said.
Some 60,000 hectares of land have been cleared and 1.9 million bombs have been destroyed in the past two decades of the mission. The number of UXO victims has dropped from 300 people a year in 2008 to 50 people a year currently.
This year's theme for Mine Awareness Day is “Needs driven. People centred.”
Sad proof of the importance of this slogan was evident in recent months, when a serious UXO accident occurred in Xieng Khuang province, claiming the life of a young girl and leaving several people injured, some of them children.
“These tragic events tear through the hearts of families and communities, and show just how critical it is to continue and improve mine action work in Laos all the while continuing to stress on mine awareness and safety,” UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Representative Ms Kaarina Immonen said.
Laos' own national 18th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on removing the UXO obstacle to development, adding to the 17 global goals with the target date of 2030, sets the tone and pace for the UXO sector.
“At its heart, SDG 18 is about removing hazards as quickly as possible in the poorest affected communities, educating locals about the risks of UXO, and providing the necessary support to victims when accidents do inevitably happen,” Ms Immonen said, highlighting that UNDP's support for this work is guided by the principle of “leaving no one behind” and by 20 years of experience supporting the government in the sector.
“UNDP and other stakeholders are working with the Lao government to improve the methods in terms of reaching the most isolated people. Too many people in Laos live very near or literally on UXO contaminated land,” the UNDP Representative added.
Despite the achievements made in mine action in the past years, numerous challenges are recognised as blocking the way to achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The government is aiming to conduct surveys in 3,860 villages that have evidence-based bombardment to identify the dropping points, then to conduct technical surveys following the results of evidence-based surveys.
The government is targeting clearance on prioritised development hubs, areas earmarked for development projects, and where people do their farming.
Contin uous campaigning on the causes and consequences of UXO will be incorporated in the government's plan to lower the number of victims to less than 40 people a year.
By Times Reporters
(Latest Update April 5, 2017)