International Day for Mine Awareness: United States Renews Commitment to Laos, Removes UXO as a Barrier to Development

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HALO excavating UXO. (Photo supplied)

Op-Ed by Heather Variava, Ambassador of the United States of America to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic

International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action on 4 April, provides an opportunity to reflect on former President Obama’s statement during his historic 2016 visit to Laos:  “Given our history here, I believe the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal.”

The United States remains committed to being a strong partner and supporter of Laos in working to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 18 – to eliminate unexploded ordnance (UXO) as a barrier to national development by 2030.

As the new Ambassador of the United States of America to Laos, my first visit outside Vientiane was to a UXO clearance site in Phalanxay district, Savannakhet Province,  with my fellow co-chairs of the UXO sector working group, Vice Foreign Minister Phoxay Khaykhamphithoune and UNDP resident representative Martine Thérer.  Together, we saw first-hand how courageous teams from UXO Lao are working to make land safe so it can be returned to communities and create more economic opportunities.

During my tenure in Laos, I will continue to support this important work.  I am therefore honored to announce an additional contribution of USD 36 million to continue UXO survey and clearance efforts in Laos’ nine most contaminated provinces.  This new contribution brings the United States’ total support to UXO efforts in the country to more than USD 391 million since 1995, with two thirds of this total disbursed since 2016.

Our UXO program in Laos is one of our largest such efforts in the world.  

We are the largest single donor to the UXO sector in this country, and our support provides employment for over 4,000 national staff nationwide.

Expanding on former President Obama’s pledge, the United States government has worked with partners, including the National Regulatory Authority for the UXO Sector (NRA), UXO Lao, HALO Trust, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), and World Education to complete proactive survey operations in five southern provinces, expand risk education, provide assistance to UXO victims, provide more services for people with disabilities in war affected areas, and significantly increase the clearance capacity of Laos.

Our combined efforts have tripled the number of U.S.-funded area clearance teams from 70 in 2020 to 210 as of March 2024.  The United States also recently expanded support to UXO Lao in Luang Prabang and Houaphanh provinces, bringing to six the total number of provinces where the United States funds UXO Lao.

Each and every project we fund is aligned with Laos’ National Socio-Economic Development Plan.  Our cooperation with our partners delivers concrete progress towards implementing the National Strategic Plan 2021-2030 for the UXO Sector, “Safe Path Forward III.”

In the coming months and years, I will continue to advocate for resources to support this important work.  I also look forward to continuing to co-chair the UXO Sector Working Group with the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNDP.  This coordination mechanism is vital to all partners working together on this important issue – for information sharing and for maximizing the efficient and effective use of available resources to address the challenges posed by UXO in Laos.