Friday, 15 July 2011

The forgotten bombs

Some "bombies"
When people think of bombing campaigns and landmines, countries like Vietnam, Cambodia and Angola come immediately to mind.  But Laos has also had its fair share of the misery, and is unfortunately still suffering today.  Over 25% of Lao villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance (termed UXO); they stem from the period 1964-1973 when the States was attempting to support the Royal Lao Government against the combined forces of the Pathet Lao and the North Vietnamese Army. During this period the United States conducted over half a million bombing missions over Laos, dropping 2 million tons of ordnance, including 270 million "bombies" (cluster sub-munitions). This equates to a planeload of bombs, every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years.  Those are some fearful statistics.

These bombing campaigns gained Laos the unfortunate accolade of the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita, untold human, financial and capital damage, and a whole load of unexploded bombs.

It is estimated that 30% of the bombs failed to detonate, leaving approximately 80 million unexploded "bombies" after the war.   Of course this unfortunate legacy has resulted in continued loss of life and capacity, right up to the present day.  It is estimated that 20,000 people were killed or injured between 1974-2008.   The majority of the unexploded bombs still left today are in rural areas, where access to health care and roads is also significantly reduced.  Mostly it is simply a case of bad timing (like Vongphone, 49, who set off a cluster bomb whilst farming his rice field:, but on other occasions the bombs are actively handled by children (thinking they are some sort of toy or stones) or sought out by impoverished villagers desperate for their scrap metal and explosive content value.

Many countries (including the United States) now donate funds towards assisting the clearing of bombs and treatment and rehabilitation of victims. The EU has earmarked 4million Euros for the coming few years and in 2010 for example, the US gave $5.1million to the UXO sector (whilst also spending $900 billion on direct costs for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...). Yet the UN predicts an average of $30million per year will be required for this sector in order to clear the remaining contaminated agrilcultural land (approx. 200,000 hectares), reduce the number of UXO accidents and treat those who have already suffered.

As with everything, there is still room for more effort to reduce the impact of these unexploded bombs and many groups are working hard on this issue.  One such organisation that is doing remarkable work in this area is called COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) which provides treatment and rehabilitation for people in need, including victims of the bombs, traffic accidents and correctable birth defects (such as club foot) and more.  There is a treatment and visitor centre in Vientiane which explains about the history and threat of the bombs, and the treatments that the centre offers.  Some of the stories they have to tell - both in the centre and on the website - are incredibly inspiring.  They also sell great icecream.... :)   Check out their website here:

Leg, anyone?!

No comments:

Post a Comment