President Barack Obama has pledged $90 million to Laos in a joint three-year project with the country’s government to clear tens of millions of unexploded US bombs.
The money will be spent surveying the Asian nation for some 80 million unexploded cluster bombs dropped during a secret US bombing campaign as part of the Vietnam War 40 years ago.
The move was welcomed by Laos President Bounnhang Vorachit as a way of strengthening mutual trust after the devastating campaign, that still maims or kills 50 people who stumble upon unexploded mines each year.
Efforts to find the bombs will be aided the Pentagon, who will supply records of where they were dropped.
Between 1964 and 1973, US warplanes rained more than two million tons of bombs on Laotian villages and countryside to try and cut off the Vietnamese army’s supply trail.
To this day, less than 1% of the bombs have been cleared, according to US-based non-government organization Legacies of War.
US funding for clearance of unexploded ordnance and victims’ assistance has steadily grown since 2010, when Congress mandated that the US government give at least $5 million for unexploded ordnance removal.
This year, Congress allotted $19.5 million, but now, for the first time, an American president has publicly recognized that the US has a responsibility to do more.
When he addresses the Laotian people this week, President Obama is expected to acknowledge the damaging effect unexploded ordnance has had on Lao’s development, agriculture and tourism.
His visit is the first trip ever by a sitting United States president to Laos.