The UK Department for International Development has just announced new funding to clear cluster munitions and explosives in Laos: "UK support will help make land safe again for cultivation and hand back control to these often marginalised and impoverished communities." (Read the full press release here.)
During the Vietnam War, Laos suffered heavy aerial bombardment, leaving behind a vast amount of explosive debris—including cluster munitions. More than 40 years later, Laos’ rural populations still live with the consequences of this contamination: land is unsafe to build homes or cultivate for food and communities are cut-off from vital services. It is estimated that there have been more than 25,000 accidents since the war ended in 1973.
HALO has been working in Laos since 2012, surveying land to map dangerous areas before clearing it so communities can use it safely once again. Between 2014 and 2016, a grant from the UK Government Department for International Development funded four survey and three clearance teams as well as a community outreach and risk education team. Thanks to this support, 860,785m2 of land was cleared and over 6,100 explosive items were destroyed—preventing accidents and allowing families to access land safely. More than 2,600 people benefitted, including the residents of Naphadang village in Savannakhét province.
The new funding will support the work of a consortium of humanitarian mine clearance organisations, including HALO, to clear over 15,000,000m2 of land in Laos over the next three years. (That's equivalent to the size of around 2,100 football pitches!)
Naphadang Village: Safe Land for Health Care
Today Naphadang village has a flourishing health centre, over 120 patients visit Dr. Nenseng's clinic every month but in 2014 this seemed a far-off dream. The nearest medical facility was over an hour away, along a road that often became unpassable in the wet season. Plans were developed to build a health centre for the villagers but the area was strewn with explosives and needed to be made safe.
UK Aid allowed HALO’s teams to prioritise clearance of the area, the land was then returned to the villagers and construction of the health centre began immediately.
Today the health centre provides care for the 1,100 residents of Napahdang, as well as seven surrounding villages. Besides offering basic health services, the clinic also gives childhood vaccinations, midwifery assistance and runs awareness programmes on personal hygiene, water and sanitation, birth control and risk education.
Dr. Nenseng runs the clinic, treating around 120 patients per month as well as providing 24-hour emergency cover.
“I am very happy we have a clinic in Naphadang where we can serve the villagers both here and in the surrounding communities.” Dr. Nenseng
The new funding from the UK Government will allow HALO to train and employ 17 clearance teams and one community outreach and risk education team, providing vital jobs for local people and ensuring land is made safe so communities can rebuild.