Tag Archives: UXO

Australia Further Supports UXO Free Efforts in Laos

Australian UXO clearance

Australia has increased its contribution to unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance operations in the areas flooded last year in Attapeu Province in Laos.

Australia announced an additional 407,000 Australian dollars (291,000 US dollars or 2.5 billion kip) to carry out UXO clearance operations in Attapeu Province, according to a press release by United Nations Development Programme on 27 June.

Helpless No More: Hope For Survivors A Precious Commodity via Prosthetics

Not Helpless: UXO survivor Mr Ing

It means so much to me that I am now able to be independent and carry out basic daily activities. It relieves the burden on my family and I do not feel helpless anymore“. – Mr Ing, 46 years.

It’s a tale that remains all too familiar in rural Laos; the life-changing impact of accidents involving unexploded ordnance (UXO) thanks to unexploded munitions from a war with many names now decades over.

Folks like Mr Ing, 46, whose accident 2 years ago took away the livelihood necessary to support his wife and four children aged 2-15 years.

From being family breadwinner to being seen by himself as a burden, his injuries have changed his life forever.

Getting more of his life back is critical to the physical and mental wellbeing of people like Mr Ing and his family, who has gone from feeling helpless about his predicament to having greater hope for the future.

Assisting people like Mr Ing to rebuild their lives are among the critical efforts organisations like COPE Laos with the able assistance of the Halo Trust.

Mr Ing agreed to share his story via COPE and Halo to raise awareness of the critical issue of survivor support services via prosthetics and rehabilitation in Laos
. Halo writes;

UXO explosion leaves farming father with double amputation, vision impairment

Mr Ing is married with 4 children with ages ranging between 2-15 years.

The UXO-related accident happened two years ago when he was out cutting grass in his fields to prepare his land for cultivation.

He does not remember anything after the explosion but he spent two weeks at the Savannakhet Hospital recuperating from the amputation of both his arms. He was also blinded in his right eye.

Some of his medical expenses at the hospital were covered by an NGO but no other assistance was provided to him after the accident.

His wife became the sole breadwinner for the family with his 15-year old son dropping out of school to help her, whilst his 10-year old daughter also stopped schooling to take care of him.

Ing is unable to carry out even the most basic activities such as eating and dressing by himself.

He has to be fed at every meal.

His family went from one that did not suffer any food shortage to harvesting only 10 bags of rice a year (enough food to feed the family for only 2 months).

The family sold their s hectare piece of land this year to buy food and medication.

To sustain themselves, they forage in the forest and harvest bamboo shoots.

Ing met staff from HALO Trust, who work to clear UXO in Savannakhet province who helped him to access prosthetic rehabilitation services for free, including reimbursement for travels, accommodation and food allowance at Savannakhet Provincial Rehabilitation Centre with COPE’s support.

HALO Trust brought Ing to the Rehabilitation Centre where he was assessed and measured for prosthetic arms.

The rehabilitation team gave him a hook for his right hand that would enable him to grasp thing, whilst the model left hand would act as a support.

Within minutes of leaving the Centre, Ing was eating with his new prosthetic devices, and regaining his sense of dignity and independence for the first time in 2 years.

A team from HALO Trust visited Ing a month later at his home. He is now able to feed and dress himself. He is able to perform his daily tasks without much help.

In time, he hopes to be able to use his prosthetic devices to help his wife with farming activities.

To learn more about HALO Trust’s work in Lao PDR, please visit their website at www.halotrust.org/where-we-work/south-asia/laos.

“Here at COPE, you provide assistance to those who have suffered because of UXO while shining a spotlight on the work that still has to be done.” – US President Barack Obama, September 2016

NRA Aims to Clear UXO From 50,000 Hectares

The National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO/Mine Action segment has set an objective to clear and eradicate unexploded ordnances on 53,737 hectares of land from 2017-2021.

The target was announced at Wednesday’s 2018 work design meeting on the prioritization of UXO surveys, clearance, mine risk education and victim assistance.

The meeting was attended by NRA Director General, Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun, and government authorities from Vientiane and other provinces.

NRA Deputy Director, Mr Bounpheng Sisawath stated that 3,860 villages require UXO reviews and more than 53,737 hectares of land still need to be cleared of potentially active devices.

UXO surveys and clearance are currently in progress in Borikhamxay, Xaysomboun, Huaphan, Xieng Khuang, Luang Prabang, Khammuan, Savannakhet, Saravan, Xekong, Attapeu and Champassak provinces.

The coming year will see further UXO clearance, roving, surveys, community awareness programmes, and risk education in target provinces, while assistance will be available to victims in UXO-related accidents.

The NRA has reported that clearance teams have worked with international organizations in an effort to clear cluster munitions and other devices on 49,619 hectares of land in 15 provinces. This includes 38,391 hectares of agricultural land and 11,228 hectares of land required for development.

An estimated 1,288,974 cluster munitions have been cleared, in addition to more than 4,200 larger bombs, 646,044 bombies, 2,218 mines, and 636,536 other lethal devices.

The presence of unexploded ordnance slows development in the fields of agriculture, forestry, mining, tourism, hydro-electric power, transport, education and health.

One of the major obstacles for the government is sourcing funds for clearance operations. The NRA must continue to mobilize funds because the budget allocated to victim assistance is very limited at present.

UXO is an obstacle for economic and social development, contaminating land that could otherwise be used for the development of agriculture, industry, tourism and the construction of infrastructure.

During the Indochina War from 1964-1973, over 3 million tonnes of ordnance were dropped from enemy aircrafts on Laos, including 270 million cluster bombs and 4 million significantly larger bombs.

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

A total of 87,000 square kilometres of land are thought to still be contaminated with UXO.

US Grants over 3 Million USD to UXO Project

rice

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.

First UXO of the Year Detonates in Xieng Khouang

UXO Laos

A hidden unexploded bomblet, known in Laos as a `bombie’, exploded on Tuesday in Paek District, Xieng Khouang province, tragically killing one child and injuring five adults and seven other children.

The lead of the hospital’s surgical team, Dr Sivay Vongthongchit, has informed the public that three people were severely injured and have undergone surgery to remove the shrapnel, while one of the victims remains in critical condition in the provincial hospital.

While the remaining victims with minor injuries had also received treatment at the hospital, they were quickly taken care of and discharged.

Dr Sivay stated that badly injured patients would need treatment for several days but assured that the provincial hospital would be able to care for them.

The disastrous event occurred on Tuesday afternoon in Nhotngeum Village, at a Hmong family home where relatives and children of the family had gathered for a traditional ceremony.

Chief of the district Police Headquarters Lieutenant Colonel Khamphay Phomchaleun explained that, the relatives were helping the host to prepare food and the children were playing in the front yard when the bombie exploded.

The Lieutenant Colonel speculated that the bombie may have detonated as a result of the the children giving off vibrations from jumping rope in the yard.

The bombie likely belongs to one of more than 270 million cluster munitions that showered Laos during the Indochina War (1963-1974) when US warplanes discarded over 2 million tonnes of ordnance across the small country.

Up to 30 percent of the fatal weapons failed to erupt, establishing Xieng Khuang as one of the most heavily-bombed provinces in Laos.

An official from the province’s Labour and Social Welfare Department announced that a non-government organisation was offering assistance and support to the survivors in addition to what is provided by the state.

Though three UXO explosions in Xieng Khuang were reported last year resulting in seven injuries, no lives were claimed.

Statistics have shown, that since the end of the war in 1975, UXOs have killed and crippled tens of thousands of civilians in Laos.

Clear Lands, Safe People: Illusion or Reality?

Clear Lands Safe People

Imagine a country of mountainous landscapes, lush green forests and quietly flowing rivers. Imagine its people, who sport their positive attitude like a national badge. Imagine their broad smile as they appreciate the peace they have enjoyed, for the best part of 40 years.

This country exists. A country with one of the kindest people I have ever met, a country rarely making international headlines.

In this mental image, however, we are immobile, taking our environment in from a stationary position. If we start walking, this pleasant experience may burst like a bubble, any second.

It did so for 58 people last year in Lao PDR. And it wasn’t a bubble bursting, but a violent explosion, in their face, under their feet, changing their lives forever. 58 is the number of persons injured and killed last year through exploding bombs, from a war that ended over 40 years ago. And although the number of casualties has dwindled in the past decade, the question is still out there: Will I be safe if I walk across this hill, thrust my shovel into the warm earth, throw my fishing net into this river, pick up from the ground what looks like a fruit, or start a fire in the undergrowth of this forest clearing? Who is there to ask? Who will be able to tell, with authority, that I will not experience the blast, the heat, the shock and the pain of a bomb going off, unchallenged for decades, but triggered by my unwitting action?

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is working to bring responses to these questions.

We already know that only an estimated 70% of the 270 million cluster munitions dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1975 exploded upon impact. We also know that as many as 14 of the 18 Lao provinces are affected, nine of them heavily. What is not known, however, is their exact location.

Clear Lands

In the past years, UNDP has worked with the Government and development partners to shift to a new, efficient technique to find areas where the number of unexploded bombs sleeping in the soil is the highest, and search these and surrounding areas thoroughly. This new method closely involves villagers, who point out places they fear hide bombs. Surveying teams then scan the area in question, and around it. Within the next few years, we should have a clear picture of which lands are safe, and which are not.

Surveying is, however, just one step towards clearing the bombs. So far, a total of 600 square kilometers have been cleared. For the last 20 years, since the establishment of the national clearance operator UXO Lao and the National Regulatory Authority, UNDP has been building national capacities within the two institutions to promote clearance work and contribute to an environment where the people of this country can enjoy the fulfillment of their basic rights to live without fear.

Our rationale at UNDP has been that with limited funding and capacity for clearance, we need to put a focus on telling villagers how to live a life together with the bombs. Mine risk education has contributed to the huge decrease in casualties over the years, from 302 in 2008 to 58 in 2016.

Lao PDR has, perhaps for the first time ever, enough well-trained teams to start the largest and most efficient clearance operation in the history of the country. Recent surveys are already supplying us with thousands of locations where clearance should be prioritized. The country continues to receive commitments from development partners to provide funding and technical expertise. Lao PDR’s own national 18th Sustainable Development Goal on unexploded ordnance, adding to the 17 global goals, aims to make Lives safe from UXO by 2030.

With the means, the timeline, the goal and commitment, the opportunity is unprecedented to scale up clearance across the affected provinces and target the areas most at risk.

We at UNDP are dedicated to continue our joint work with our partners so that a Laos free of bombs can be as real and tangible as the smile on the faces of its people.

by Kaarina Immonen

Kaarina-Immonen

Kaarina Immonen is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Lao PDR. She began her career in the United Nations in 1990. Her most recent appointment before her arrival to Laos was as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in the Central African Republic. She has also worked in Moldova, the Russian Federation, Georgia, Cambodia and Vietnam.