Working for development and ethnic minority communities

By Nguyen Minh Chau, UNDP Project Assistant, Korea-Vietnam Mine Action Project

April 5, 2020

Mr. Tha – a landmine and UXO survivor from the Arem ethnic group – live with the unstable income of one dollar per day by weaving bamboo baskets. This picture was taken before he receives a prosthetic limb supported by the Korea-Vietnam Mine Action Project (KVMAP). Photo: UNDP Vietnam

My work as a Mine Risk Education assistant naturally makes so much sense. The most special impression to me was to see the impact of mine action work on the lives of local people and especially on the children.

We are seeing how a new village for hundreds of families will be brought to life in the areas once contaminated in Quang Hung Commune, Quang Trach district. Grounds for children, parks and cultural houses for children will all be built in long-time abandoned areas, that is now being cleared. This is an area where the survey and clearance teams found recently cluster submunitions at the depth of only 30 cm.

In other areas, the challenge is not that the contaminated land is not in use, quite the opposite. It is indeed being used, but by people who are not aware of the dangers they put themselves into every day. Some of the poorest people in Viet Nam live from harvesting these dangerous areas contaminated with explosives.  I cannot forget my conversation with Luan, a laborer who is doing resin harvesting at a full-year pine forest. In that area, cluster sub-munitions BLU 24 and 26 have been identified. These sub-munitions are very sensitive, and should they be stepped on, they may be fatal.  

I did not know that this area still has UXOs until some weeks ago, when I saw a lot of soldiers coming to find the bombs.  I am a little bit scared but still must work here to support my daughter. No one talked to us about how dangerous the bombs are and how to avoid the accidents. It is good if you can tell us”, Luan explains.

These local people might continue to work in the contaminated area, because they are unaware of the dangers or because they have no other source of income. But if we could help educate them on the dangers of unexploded ordnances, about how to recognize explosive devices and how to avoid risks, it will help to save lives and limbs. Long hours working in an excel sheet, planning mine risk education activities became meaningful in that moment.

Mr. Tha from Arem ethnic minority - an UXO survivor - with his new prosthetic arm. Photo: UNDP Vietnam

When we visited Tan Trach, Thuong Trach communes, Bo Trach district, Quang Binh, I talked to Arem and Ma-coong Ethic minority teenagers. As I listen to the stories, I was shocked to find out the way they do farming. The local people often do clearance for their faming by burning all trees on the land and run away as there are still a lot of explosives there and they can hear a lot of bomb exploding sound. In these areas, some of Vietnam’s smallest minority groups like the Arems and Ma-coong have lived for decades. They lived here, by the legend Road 20, when American planes roared above them, and they still live there with the noise of explosive remnants of war.

Bon Bon, whose parents not only suffer from a mine accident but also belong to one of the last tribes in Vietnam – the Arem ethnic minority group, had the opportunities to learn about mine risks and basic know-how skills to cope with mines and UXO situations thanks to the Korea-Viet Nam Mine Action project. The project has helped Bon Bon together with other 17,800 children in Quang Binh province to be equipped with good knowledge and practical skills to live safely in the landmine areas. Photo: UNDP Vietnam

When our project completes, hopefully they will never have to listen to that noise again. When we complete this project, I hope the villages will be developing, the land will be cultivating, and children will be playing on safe grounds free of UXOs. And all farmers in Quang Trach district will have acquired a safer behavior in the contaminated areas. That truly makes sense.