The US government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) granting 24 billion kip (US$3,026,000) to Laos, in support of a rural development project through Unexploded Ordnance clearance in Xieng Khuang province.
The grant will contribute to the non-technical and technical aspects of surveying and clearing unexploded ordnances in the Xieng Khuang districts of Nonghet, Khoun and Phaxay. The project is being funded by the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, U.S Department of State (WRA) and will run for a year.
The MoU was signed on June 30, at a ceremony in Vientiane between the Director General of the National Regulatory Authority for the UXO/Mine Action sector in Laos, Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun, and Country Director of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) in Laos, Ms Blossum Gilmour with the US Ambassador to Laos, Ms Rena Bitter, in attendance.
At the ceremony, Ms Blossum stated that funding for the project will be used to increase access to safe land in Xieng Khuang, through land release activities. Over the 12 months covered in the grant, the MAG will clear and release over 3,4 million square meters of land for safe and productive use. Non-technical surveying will also be completed in 94 villages and technical surveying will be conducted on a minimum of 46.8 million square meters of land.
Deputy Head of Labour and Social Welfare Department in Xieng Khuang province, Mr Chanthy Khiewmala said, “Xieng Khuang is one of the most UXO contaminated provinces in the country. Since 1994, MAG and other organizations have so far cleared and destroyed UXO from 11,600 hectares with 622,756 UXO devices destroyed”.
The National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO/Mine Action Sector has set a target to clear UXO from 28 percent more land this year as compared to 2016.
Last year, the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao), with the support of international organizations and the government, cleared devices from 2,500 hectares and plans to increase the area to more than 3,200 hectares this year.
Of the land set to be cleared, 92.5 percent is utilized for agriculture, such as coffee farming and rice cultivation, as well as land needed for new agricultural activity. Land needed for the construction of schools, irrigation and dispensaries accounts for the remaining 7.5 percent.
According to reports, a total of 100,434 UXO devices were detected and destroyed last year, of which 81,773 were cluster bombs. Ten UXO-related accidents killed five people and injured 16 others.
During the second Indochina War (1964-1973), more than two million tonnes of UXO were dropped on Laos, making it the most heavily-bombed country per capita worldwide.