Protecting Lives, Building Peace: Working Together for a Safer Future

Written by: Martine Thérer, UNDP Lao PDR Resident Representative

April 8, 2024

Today, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic marks the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action 2024 with the opening of a new exhibition on unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Luang Prabang. Commemorated annually around the world on 4 April, this international day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the devastating impact of explosive remnants of war on communities long after conflicts have ended.

Lao PDR remains the most heavily bombed country per capita in history.  More than 50 years after bombs were dropped during the Indochina War, unexploded ordnance continue to kill and maim, causing unacceptable harm to innocent civilians and adding substantial costs to the achievement of national development priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

More than 25,000 people have fallen victims to UXO and bombies since the end of the war. Almost half of them died. Children account today for roughly half of the casualties. 

The story of Layoud, an 11-year-old boy from Vientiane Province is a chilling reminder of the long-lasting effects of war. In “Invisible Scars”, a short documentary produced by UNDP with generous funding from Ireland, Layoud’s mother recalls how, while playing in the neighbourhood, children found a UXO which they mistook for a pétanque ball. That day, two children died and three others were injured. With only a few physical scars, but deeply traumatized by the accident, Layoud has developed hearing difficulties and is now losing his ability to learn. 

Like Layoud, many of the estimated 15,000 living survivors of accidents involving explosive remnants of war, will need medical care, physical rehabilitation and psychosocial support throughout their entire life. Even though the number of victims is falling, since the beginning of the year, there have already been 10 UXO accidents in which 18 persons were injured and 3, killed. More than half of the victims were children.   

UXO clearance remains a critical priority in Lao PDR. The presence of unexploded ordnance is not just a constant threat of physical harm, it also prevents communities from fully utilizing their land, affects access to essential services, hinders development, and perpetuates poverty.

It is particularly heart-breaking that although a total 124 countries have joined the Convention on cluster munitions, the same deadly mistakes that led to the nightmare of UXO contamination in Laos are repeated in conflicts around the world where these indiscriminate, abhorrent weapons continue to be used, causing both immediate and long-term physical harm and suffering that affect people’s lives and livelihoods long after hostilities have ceased.

Since Lao PDR signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008 – the second country in the world to do so – it has been a champion in advocating for its implementation and it has made significant progress in tackling the deadly legacy of a war that has long been forgotten by the world. To date, Lao PDR has identified over 196,467 hectares of Confirmed Hazardous Areas (CHAs) and cleared over 86,860 hectares of land (more than the size of Singapore) for agriculture and development purposes, while destroying over 1.9 million UXO from these lands[1].

But there is still a long way to go, given the sheer magnitude of UXO contamination in the country. While recognizing the tireless efforts of the Lao government, solidarity and international support remain vital to provide the resources and expertise needed to effectively address such a complex and daunting challenge. Through continued collaboration and shared commitment, we can accelerate progress in reducing the threat posed by unexploded ordnance, ensure the safety and security of all individuals, and support the sustainable development of affected communities. 

UNDP is proud to work alongside the Government of Lao PDR in the UXO sector. Our engagement is guided by the principle of leaving no one behind and the commitment to help Laos achieve national SDG 18 on Lives Safe from UXO.  With the financial support of our partners – Canada, Ireland, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), Luxembourg and New Zealand – we help strengthen national capacities, supporting clearance operations, risk education, victim assistance and advocacy. 

By raising awareness, mobilizing resources, and advocating for the rights of affected communities, we can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those impacted by UXO contamination. I hope that this commemoration of International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action will be an opportunity to redouble our efforts to “protect lives and build peace” and to reaffirm our commitment to a world free from the threat of mines and unexploded ordnance.


[1] NRA dashboard, as of 4th March 2024.