GETTING MINES OUT OF THE GROUND, FOR GOOD.

One of the results of the Second Indochina War (1964 to 1973) is the magnitude of the UXO problem remaining in Laos.

During the conflict, the country was subject to heavy aerial bombardment, resulting in the world’s largest contamination from unexploded submunitions. It is estimated that over 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the same period, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines were laid along the country’s borders and around military bases and airfields.

While the number of mine and UXO related accidents continue to decrease, over 25% of all villages in Laos still remain contaminated, primarily with UXO.

Agricultural activities provide employment for over 80% of the country’s population and remain crucial to poverty reduction in Lao PDR. This has been identified by both the Government and the international institutions. UXO contamination poses a serious obstacle to this improvement and development.

Cluster munitions prevent access to potential agricultural land and, as demand and pressure for fertile land increase, villagers take risks every day in cultivating areas affected by UXO and accidents continue to occur.

HALO’s survey, EOD and UXO clearance program will initially focus on two eastern districts in Savannakhet Province.

In the Laos Government’s country-wide rating of district development levels, these two districts rank among the poorest districts as measured by the national poverty index and suffer some of the highest UXO accident rates.

The UXO problem in Laos will be solved through accurate survey, correct clearance prioritisation and, most importantly, the implementation of large scale clearance. Regionally HALO has over 1,000 local staff in both Sri Lanka and Cambodia and almost 4,000 in Afghanistan conducting such clearance operations. The Government of Laos requires this scale of clearance if Millennium Development Goal 9 (reduce the impact of UXO) is to be met.

The Government of Lao PDR aims to have cleared 200,000 hectares of contaminated priority land by 2020.

With the current clearance rates in Laos ranging between 4,000 - 5,000 hectares (all agencies) of contaminated land per year, increasing clearance capacities and efficiencies are crucial to achieving this goal.

Given that casualties are still occurring almost 40 years after the bombings ended, and contamination is so widespread, there is a clear requirement for increased clearance operations in order to ensure that high value agricultural land is cleared from the current threat in a shorter timeframe and the number of casualties is substantially reduced.