On SDG 18: War legacy, Resilience, and Healing in Uncertain Times!

By: Mona Moustafa, African Young Women Leader Programme

December 8, 2022

Mona (in dark blue) with the UXO female technicians at the clearance site, Salavan province


When I joined the UNDP Lao office, I learnt for the first time that Lao PDR has 18 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   Yes! It is not a typo… Lao PDR has the 18th SDG!

Many people are familiar with 17 global goals for sustainable development, but only a few are aware of the 18th goal that deals with explosive remnants of war. SDG 18 entitled ‘Lives safe from Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)’, was developed to address the war legacy of more than 80 million cluster submunitions remaining unexploded scattered across the country from the Second Indochina War (1964-1973). While many decades have passed, many Lao communities continue to suffer from UXO contamination and struggle to recover from the wounds of the war.  The cluster submunitions can explode when they are moved, thereby affecting farmers tilling the land, children picking them up as balls or families lighting fires over them.  

Salavan is the 3rd most UXO-contaminated province in Lao PDR. And very recently, I had the exciting opportunity to visit there for the first time since I began my assignment in Lao PDR. Although I heard explosive remnants of war have substantially affected Lao communities, I could hardly imagine the exact impact of UXO in the affected communities for their past, present, and future.

It poured heavily on our way to Salavan from Pakse, making it difficult to watch the road as I usually like to do. While I was only able to catch some scenes, we passed by a school area. The scenery reminds me of the importance of investing in education in UXO-affected communities to help the younger generation overcome the challenges posed by UXO, come up with innovative solutions to accelerate clearance, and develop resilience.

Out of the 7 million population in the country, nearly 60% are under 25 years. A better future for Lao PDR is dependent on how children and youth's right to thrive and develop their full potential are protected and supported, especially in this uncertain time.

As we reached the clearance site the next day, the UXO Lao team at the field warmly welcomed us and shared their accomplishments and challenges in project implementation. Learning directly from the field-level staff about their hardships such as working in adverse weather conditions, poor road conditions, dense forests, with outdated or malfunctioning equipment and vehicles made me appreciate them even more.

I was excited to see female UXO operators, particularly in rural areas where traditionally women have limited job opportunities or are mostly expected to stay at home. I thought they could surely be positive role models for many female youth and children in Lao PDR.     

Later that day, we were invited to join some activities related to UXO risk education at Taopoun primary school. This school visit made me further think about the persistent impact of UXO on the affected communities: limiting children in rural areas from fully enjoying their right to live and learn in a safe environment.

By the end of the visit, I left filled with many emotions and insights. One of the thoughts from this visit is how to come up with sustainable plans to deal with remnants of war that have been and will continuously restrain the affected communities to live up to their potential. Furthermore, I hope the Lao government, with close cooperation with development partners and UNDP strengthen the linkage between UXO clearance and the affected communities’ socio-economic development, especially in education and child protection, on our shared belief that children hold the key to a sustainable and risk-resilient future.

I know it’s easier said than done. However, leaving the UXO project site behind, I recalled the quote from B. Dave Walter: “I am not saying it’s going to be easy. I am saying it’s going to be worth it”. I believe that the commitments of all stakeholders to accomplish SDG 18 which are translated into effective and efficient UXO implementations will eventually enable UXO-affected communities in Lao PDR to move on to a safer and more sustainable future for all.



With the support of the governments of the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and Ireland, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) launched a 5-year project to support effectiveness and efficiency in the UXO Sector to contribute to SDG 18 Lives safe from UXO and the 10-year National Strategic Plan for the UXO sector in the Lao PDR (2021-2030), Safe Path Forward III.