VIENTIANE - It could take another 100 years to remove unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the province due to the paucity of funding available for the Herculean task according to Xieng Khuang’s governor.
Provincial Governor Prof. Dr Somkot Mangnomek told Lao media last week that the large number of missiles and munitions from the extensive wartime aerial bombardment remain a grave threat to the lives of local people and hinder development.
“Hundreds of thousands of bombs were dropped here during the Indochina War in the 1960s and 1970s,” he said. “The bombs remain in the ground, claiming the lives of local people and creating obstacles for socio-economic development.”
“I believe that it might take another 100 years or more to remove the UXO at the current rate unless more funding is allocated to cope with this issue.”
Prof. Dr Somkot said the government is highly committed to UXO surveys, clearance and education, but has limited funding for this task.
Critics claim that although foreign nations have provided support for UXO clearance in Xieng Khuang province, on occasions an unreasonably high percentage of this assistance has come in the form of costly international expertise or consultation rather than direct support targeted at where it could be most effective.
The province’s UXO problem has its origins in the nation’s dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country per capita in history as a result of aerial barrages that continued for most of a decade.
During the Indochina War (1964-1975), more bombs were dropped on Laos than on Japan and Germany combined during World War II. Despite the fact that the Indochina War ended more than four decades ago, unexploded bombs continue to kill and injure. Some 50,000 people fell victim as a result of UXO incidents between 1964 and 2008, many of those being women and children. Xieng Khuang is one of the most UXO contaminated provinces in the country.
Another fatal accident occurred in the province in recent months, claiming the life of a young girl and leaving several people including children injured and traumatised.
Explosive materials that remain continue to have a significant impact on the safety and livelihoods of vulnerable rural populations, too often diminishing their ability to cultivate sufficient crops to escape poverty.
The presence of UXO exposes people to the unacceptable risk of life- or livelihood-ending accidents that too often kill and maim those who take their chances working contaminated land. Unexploded ordnance also has a significant effect on social and economic development in the province and nationwide, increasing the cost of construction of schools, hospitals and roads, due to the need for surveys and UXO clearance before work can commence.
Adopted in consultation with the United Nations, Laos’ own national 18th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on removing UXO as an obstacle to development sets the tone and pace for the UXO sector.
It comes in addition to the 17 global SDGs and shares the target achievement date of 2030.
The government is directing clearance efforts to prioritised development hubs, areas earmarked for development projects, and land that has the potential for agriculture.