Written by: Ms. Ji Sun Park, Programme and Reporting Specialist; and Ms. Katherine O’Brien, M&E and Reporting Specialist, UXO Unit, UNDP Lao PDR
Lives left behind with the scarred land: UXO action as a foundation for human development
April 3, 2023
One afternoon, Sone left her home in Phonsaat village, Bolikhamxai province, holding her son's hand to get him some biscuits from the local shop. Strolling back home, she saw a large cloud of smoke rising. As she ran forward, she was devastated to see that it was her home that was in flames.
The fire destroyed the house and killed her husband. This tragedy was caused by a bomb dropped almost 50 years prior, which her husband had been storing under the house along with other scrap metal to bring them some extra income.
Sone received funding to cover the unexpected cost of her husband’s funeral. But the new emotional and financial burdens on Sone were still enormous and overwhelming. Overnight, she became the main breadwinner and caretaker of her family. Soon after, her daughter dropped out of high school to help support the struggling family. Thankfully, Sone’s neighbors helped her to build a new home across the road from where her old house once stood. She found and was able to use an empty plot of land nearby to grow rice and cassava. But, a few years after her husband’s death in 2019, she found two more UXO. Sone alerted the village authority, and they were removed safely by the Humanitarian UXO Demining Team of Lao People’s Army (Unit 58) who conducts clearance and survey with the support of the Government of the Republic of Korea via the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
However, she learnt that her entire cassava crop would have to be uprooted before the land could be cleared of UXO. She made the difficult decision of waiting until after the harvest to request further clearance, not wanting to lose her investment and income from the crop.
When asked if she was afraid to work on land which potentially contains more UXO, she replied “If I don’t die from the UXO, we will die from starvation. Of course, I fear using this land. But my children are still young, and I need money to feed my family."
Even though it is now 50 years since the end of conflict (1964-1973), UXO risk reduction is still a necessary foundation for socio-economic development. The vast majority of the Lao population, live on land scarred with this still-deadly legacy of war. Unfortunately, many of the poorest districts in the country are also the most contaminated with UXO.
Millions of people like Sone and her family are forced into the difficult position of taking risks to survive. To address this ongoing issue, the Government of Lao PDR and UNDP renewed a decades-long partnership in the UXO sector and launched a new UXO Programme for the five-year period 2022 to 2026, “Supporting Effectiveness and Efficiency in the UXO Sector to contribute to the achievement of SDG 18 and Safe Path Forward III (SPF III)” in April 2022. Development partners such as the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Ireland, Luxembourg and Canada are all providing generous financial contributions to this programme through UNDP.
UNDP recognises that UXO clearance can amplify the results of other development investments. It is critical for UXO and mine action to be fully integrated into development planning, as the issue remains highly relevant for development outcomes in impacted communities. Accordingly, in 2023, UNDP launched a project in partnership with the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao) and funded by the government of Luxembourg which will directly link Luxembourg’s local development projects in Khammouane with UXO Lao clearance operations. Likewise, UNDP has collaborated closely with the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) to integrate UXO clearance into their rural income generation project in Bolikhamxai province. In partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, KOICA strategically selected 2 UXO-cleared villages out of 6 target villages in Bolikhamxai province as the sites for their rural development project to maximise the impact of UNDP-supported UXO clearance.
The integration of UXO clearance with development assistance is urgently needed to ensure that future generations will not suffer the physical and economic consequences of UXO contamination. The people of Lao PDR cannot wait another 50 years to live their lives safe from UXO.
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