National Regulatory Authority for the UXO/Mine Action Sector in the Lao PDR (NRA) has set a target to clear and destroy unexploded ordnance on 10,000ha of land this year.
The target was reported at Tuesday’s annual meeting of the NRA to summarise the work plan for this year.
The meeting was attended by Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Dr Khampheng Saysompheng, who is chairman of the NRA board, and government officials from Vientiane and the provinces.
Dr Khampheng said vast tracts of land remain contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), amounting to a total of 87,000sq km or 8.7 million hectares. All of this must be surveyed and cleared of UXO so that development can go ahead.
Since 1996, 962 people have been injured and 251 people have died in UXO-related accidents. Now 111,196ha of land have been identified as Confirmed UXO Hazardous Areas and 60,190ha of land have been cleared of munitions, he said.
NRA head of office Chomyaeng Phengthongsawath said that this year the NRA will coordinate with UXO clearance organisations to carry out surveys in 1,106 villages and aim to remove and destroy UXO on 10,000ha of land. The NRA also aims to survey 50,000ha of land for the presence of UXO.
The organisation will continue its victim assistance programme and UXO community awareness and risk education campaigns in target areas. Last year 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 to less than 40 per year.
One of the major challenges for the government is sourcing funding for clearance operations. The NRA must continue to mobilise 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, the government and the UN Development Programme in Laos are continuing to support the NRA to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 18 on removing UXO as an obstacle to development.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Throughout the Second Indochina War (1964-1973), more than two million tonnes of ordnance were dropped on Laos, of which 30 per cent failed to explode.
More than 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