Tackling the deadly legacy of war in Lao PDR

Rice planting season is a nerve-wracking time for 49 year-old farmer Vongphone of Xieng Khouang province, in northern Lao. He was disabledfive years ago when he accidentally set off an unexploded cluster bomb.

Vongphone, who lost his left hand, is one of hundreds maimed or killed each year by explosive weapons - more than two million tonnes of which were dropped across the country by United States' aircraft between 1964 and 1973.

Highlights

  • UNDP helped the Lao PDR government to develop a national programme to clear the country of unexploded sub-munitions.
  • Lao PDR is the most cluster munitions and UXO affected country in the world, with 25% of its villages still contaminated and around 300 people killed in UXO accidents annually.
  • To help accelerate progress, a Lao-specific MDG 9 was adopted in 2010, one of the targets of which is to ‘reduce substantially the number of casualties as a result of UXO incidents’.

Four decades after the war, UXO continues to pose a major humanitarian threat and a significant obstacle to development.

“I’m still afraid,” said Vongphone. “It’s hard for us because when we farm there are unexploded bombs. But we have to farm, otherwise we have no income.”

The majority of the nearly one hundred million cluster sub-munitions that failed to explode fell on some of the country’s poorest areas. More than 200,000 hectares of prime agricultural land remains to be cleared.

The government of Lao PDR has set a clearance target of 20,000 hectares a year.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported the national clearance operator, UXO Lao, in clearing around 24,000 hectares since starting operations in 1996.

On 20 October 2010, the Vientiane High Level Round Table Meeting adopted the goal of reducing the impact of UXO on communities in Lao PDR. This became the ninth Millennium Development Goal, specific to Lao PDR. Effective action in this area will not only achieve MDG 9, but will also contribute significantly to the achievement of several other MDGs as well.

The number of UXO casualties nationwide in Lao PDR has fallen by half between 2011 and 2012.