UXO continues to harm development, people's livelihood in Laos

As most Lao people work in the agricultural sector, the large number of UXO devices that remain in the ground has continued to cause physical damage and affect people's livelihoods. - VT

VIENTIANE (Xinhua): The unexploded ordnance (UXO), mainly cluster munitions, has caused great harm to people's livelihood and remains a major challenge to Laos' socio-economic development.

"Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world in terms of per capita. Until now, clearance of cluster munition remnants in Laos has still not finished and it has serious consequences for people's lives," said Sykhoun Bounvilay, a retired senior diplomat of Laos, during an interview with Xinhua on Wednesday (July 12).

All 18 provinces in Laos are reported to have UXO, with the heaviest contamination being found in Xiengkhuang province, northeast of Lao capital Vientiane.

Sykhoun plants two unexploded cluster munition casings at the gate of his house in Vientiane, and even uses some of them as flower pots in his yard.

"I brought these bombs from Xiengkhuang province. I placed them outside the building as a symbol, and people know that Laos can't produce such bombs. It certainly came from the United States," he told Xinhua.

Throughout 1964-1973, over two million tons of ordnance were dropped on Laos, of which 30 per cent failed to explode. Over 270 million cluster munitions were dropped from US warplanes, leaving an estimated 80 million live bomblets scattered and buried around the Southeast Asian country.

Sykhoun recalled his memory when he was 12 years old, living in Huaphan Province bordering Vietnam, "whenever we heard the plane coming, we had to run and hide in the forest. Houses, schools, temples were severely destroyed by cluster munitions. The bombs caused many deaths and injuries."

While most Lao people work in the agricultural sector, the large number of UXO devices that remain in the ground has continued to cause physical damage and affect people's livelihoods, impeding the use of land for agricultural production.

Sykhoun said vast potentially rich agricultural land is left unused in contaminated areas in Laos due to the risks of bomb explosions, which partly induce a reduction of agricultural production.

According to a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report on UXO post-clearance impact in January 2023, accidents with unexploded ordnance in Laos are frequently caused by farming, cutting grasses and vegetation, digging land, etc., with most casualties being men and children.

The report says that clearance of UXO reduces the daily risk that people are exposed to and makes farmers more confident to work on and extend their land.

Albeit addressing the UXO issue is financially and geographically challenged and requires technical support from the international community, Laos' national policy framework places much emphasis on the clearance of UXO in an effort to boost poverty alleviation, safety and wellbeing, and socio-economic development.

In 2016, Laos put in place its 18th Sustainable Development Goal, "Lives Safe from UXO," with targets to reduce accidents and casualties, clear land with high contamination, and support the needs of UXO survivors.

As indicated by the figures released by Lao Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Padeumphone Sonthany to mark the 18th International Day for UXO/Mine Awareness, from 1996 to February 2023, 1,808,254 UXO devices were removed and detonated in Laos, among which 1,056,393 were cluster bombs, 4,336 were large bombs and 2,456 were land mines.

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Laos , UXO , clearance


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