From 1963-1974 during the Second Indochina War, Laos People's Democratic Republic (PDR) suffered heavy aerial bombardment in an attempt by the US Air Force to block the flow of North Vietnamese arms and troops through Laotian territory, earning it the dubious distinction of “most bombed country” per capita in the world.
Although Laos PDR was one of the first signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions and is committed to removing the cluster munition threat, the UXO problem continues to pose a significant danger to communities and a barrier to development.
More than 40 years after the conflict, UXO contamination continues to affect rural communities in Laos, with the most widespread being “cluster bombs”, white phosphorous rockets and large aircraft bombs. It is estimated that there have been more than 25,000 victims of UXO since the war ended in 1973 and accidents continue to happen every year.
Villagers in Savannakhet Province, one of the most affected areas, are almost entirely dependent on rice cultivation but contamination across their paddy fields makes them understandably reluctant to cultivate their land. This hampers their ability to grow food and build a surplus, the first step in moving away from subsistence farming and the foundation of grass roots development.
In 2012, with funding from the US government, HALO established a programme of survey and clearance in Eastern Savannakhet Province, the most UXO impacted and impoverished region. We have been working with government departments and NGO development partners including World Vision, Welthungerhilfe and GIZ to improve human security and eradicate poverty. Our staff conduct surveys to identify and map UXO contamination. They then carry out clearance, removing the threat from areas containing cluster munitions.
HALO follows an evidence-based survey methodology in Laos, a process that begins with meetings and interviews with local villagers, then uses technical survey approaches to accurately delineate the extent of UXO contamination, ensuring any clearance is appropriately targeted. We also use an impact prioritisation system which, when combined with accurate survey, ensures clearance is delivered to areas of the greatest need and impact.
So far, over 4,900,000m2 of land has been cleared, with over 35,000 explosive devices destroyed, improving the lives of over 9,000 local people.
With generous funding from the UK Department for International Development and the US Department of State (PM/WRA) HALO has achieved remarkable results but there is still a lot to be done. HALO supports the National Regulatory Authority’s (NRA) national strategy to survey of cluster munitions to enable a better understanding of the extent of remaining contamination and the resources required to clear the land.
With support from our US Donor the first phase of this national survey project is beginning in 2018 and HALO will conduct a provincial survey of Savannakhet. Working in coordination with other operators and with the National Authorities, the results from this project will be used to prioritise future clearance.