Laos' National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO/Mine Action Sector has set a target to clear and destroy unexploded ordnance (UXO) on over 7,000ha of land this year.
The target was reported last week at a UXO Sector Working Group meeting to summarise its activities over the first six months of this year and plans for the remainder of the year.
The meeting was attended by Minister of Labour and Social Welfare and NRA board chairman Dr Khampheng Saysompheng, UN Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative Ricarda Rieger, US ambassador to Laos Dr Peter M Haymond, government officials and foreign ambassadors.
Dr Khampheng told the meeting that the Covid-19 pandemic had impacted UXO operations, especially clearance projects which were suspended. However, the NRA continued other activities such as mine risk education via radio programmes.
NRA head of office Chomyaeng Phengthongsawath reported that for the last six months of this year the authority would continue to aim to clear 7,761ha and conduct technical surveys to identify confirmed hazardous areas (CHA) on 42,130ha.
They will continue to conduct non-technical surveys in 796 villages and continue mine risk education in 402 communities.
The NRA reported that during the first six months, 2,239ha of land were cleared, 7,870ha of CHA were identified, and 310 villages surveyed. Clearance teams destroyed 44,868 items of UXO including 33,521 cluster munitions.
From 2021-2025, the NRA is aiming to clear 50,000ha of land, conduct non-technical surveys in 2,776 villages and technical surveys to identify CHA on 250,000ha, and undertake mine risk education in 3,000 communities.
According to the National UXO Programme (UXO Lao), during the first six months of the year, they were able to clear 966ha comprising 965ha of farmland and destroy 13,454 UXO items including 12,236 cluster munitions.
Mine risk education units completed activities in 109 villages with 73,227 participants including 31,963 children and 41,264 adults.
In addition, a total of 1,366ha, including 1,333ha of agricultural land was identified as hazardous.
The programme has been working in the nine UXO-affected provinces of Huaphan, Luang Prabang, Xieng Khuang, Khammuan, Savannakhet, Saravan, Sekong, as well as Champasak and Attapeu which border Cambodia.
UXO Lao has set a target to clear 1,423ha of land and carry out non-technical surveys in 17 villages and technical surveys on 1,889ha.
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.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Throughout the Second Indochina War (1964-1973), over two million tonnes of ordnance were dropped on Laos, of which 30 per cent failed to explode.
Over 270 million cluster munitions were dropped from US aircraft, leaving an estimated 80 million live bomblets (bombies) scattered and buried around the country.
VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK