Laos to clear wartime unexploded ordnance from 10,000 hectares of land in 2020

Lao National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO/Mine Action Sector has set a target on Tuesday to clear and destroy unexploded ordnance (UXO) on 10,000 hectares of land in 2020.

The target was reported at the annual meeting of the NRA to summarise the work plan for 2020.

The meeting was attended by Lao Minister of Labor and Social Welfare Khampheng Saysompheng, who is the chairman of the NRA Board, and other government officials from Vientiane capital and the provinces, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Wednesday.

Khampheng said vast tracts of land remain contaminated with UXO, amounting to a total of 87,000 square km or 8.7 million hectares. All of this must be surveyed and cleared of UXO so that development can go ahead.

According to statistics from Lao authorities, the United States dropped some 2 million tons of ordinance on Laos from 1965 to 1973 during the Vietnam War, including 2.7 million cluster bombs which are designed to break apart and release a payload of smaller bombs. As many as 30 percent of these bombs did not explode.

Since 1996, 962 people have been injured and 251 people have died in UXO-related accidents. Nowadays, 111,196 hectares of land have been identified as Confirmed UXO hazardous areas and 60,190 hectares been cleared of munitions, he said.

Head of Office of the NRA, Chomyaeng Phengthongsawath, said the NRA will coordinate with UXO clearance organizations in 2020 to carry out surveys in 1,106 villages, aiming to remove and destroy UXO on 10,000 hectares of land. The NRA also aims to survey 50,000 hectares of land for the presence of UXO.

The organization will continue its victim assistance program and UXO community awareness and risk education campaigns in target areas. In 2019, there were 19 UXO-related accidents in which 24 people were injured and some deaths were reported.

UXO surveys and clearance are currently underway in Xieng Khuang, Khammuan, Savannakhet, Saravan, Xekong and Attapeu provinces. Public awareness-raising activities will be carried out in a bid to reduce the number of UXO casualties, according to the report.

One of the major challenges for Lao government is sourcing funding for clearance operations. The NRA must continue to mobilize funds because the budget allocated to victim assistance is very limited.

UXO is an obstacle to economic and social development, contaminating land that could otherwise be used for agriculture, industry, tourism and the construction of infrastructure.

From 2017-2021, Lao government and the United Nations Development Program in Laos are continuing to support the NRA to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 18 on removing UXO as an obstacle to development.

Over the years, thousands of Lao people have been killed or injured, usually farmers tending their fields and children playing.

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