Laos Adjusts UXO Clearance Target to 7,000 Hectares in 2020

MAG UXO clearance team poses with a 2,000lb bomb uncovered in Khammouane province.
MAG UXO clearance team poses with a 2,000lb bomb uncovered in Khammouane province (Photo: MAG)

The Lao National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO and mine clearance sector has adjusted its 2020 target this week to clear and destroy unexploded ordnance over 7,000 hectares of land.

In February, the NRA announced it hoped to clear 10,000 hectares in 2020 but has adjusted the target in line with the current situation amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new goal was announced on Tuesday at the UXO Sector Working Group meeting where the NRA summarized its activities over the first six months of this year.

The meeting was attended by Lao Minister of Labour and Social Welfare and Chairman of the NRA Board, Dr. Khampheng Saysompheng, US Ambassador to Laos Dr. Peter M. Haymond, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representative, Ms. Ricarda Rieger, government officials and other guests.

Dr. Khampheng said at the meeting that the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted UXO clearance operations, with some projects being suspended.

The NRA reported that 2,239 hectares of land had been cleared of UXO in the first six months of this year, while 7,870 hectares of Confirmed Hazardous Areas (CHA) had been identified.

Clearance teams destroyed 44,868 items of UXO including 33,521 cluster munitions.

According to reports from the Lao authorities, the United States dropped some 2 million tons of explosives on Laos between 1965 and 1973 during the Indochina War, including 270 million cluster bombs designed to break up and release a payload of smaller bombs.

UXOs are a barrier to economic and social development, contaminating land which could otherwise be used for agriculture, industry, tourism and infrastructure.

Tests conducted in the United States have found that cluster munitions have a failure rate of up to 30 percent, meaning a large number of unexploded devices still remain in Laos.

The total area of land contaminated by UXO is unknown, although some estimates place it at nearly 87,000 square kilometres.