We talked a lot about the controversial Vietnam War but did you know that Laos was involved too in this war? Did you know that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita in history? I felt really ignorant after I found out about these figures, I hope through this article to bring more awareness on this topic.
From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of ordnance over Laos during 580,000 bombing missions—equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. The bombing was an effort to fend off the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese Army. It led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians within Laos.
At least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped over Laos as part of this bombing campaign, approximately 30% had not exploded. So up to 80 million bombs remained unexploded all over Laos, after the war, mostly in rural areas. Approximately 25% of the villages in Laos are still contaminated with UXO (unexploded ordnance).
More than 50.000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO incidents between 1964 to 2011. And more than 20.000 were killed or injured in the post-war period after 1974. Out of these 20.000: – 13.500 lost a limb, 40% were children. Today, approximately 100 new casualties still occur annually.
To address the unexploded ordnance, UXO surveys are conducted in a systematic manner, village by villages, hazardous areas are mapped to be cleared based on local and national priorities. Every day, 3000 women and men, throughout Laos, are conducting surveys and clearance work, locating and destroying
hundreds of cluster munition and other explosive remnants.
I was able to learn about these facts by visiting the COPE center (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) in Vientiane. It was founded in 1997 with an agreement between the Ministry of Health and a group of NGOs: POWER International, World Vision and the Cambodian School of Orthotic and Prosthetics.
I totally recommend visiting this center because there are much data about the consequences of the war in Laos. You could also find out more about the victims of UXO incidents. I took some time to reflect after this visit because their stories are tragic. It’s not only about the bombies but the infrastructure of Laos and poverty are other factors that contribute to their sad stories. If a kid is hurt by a bombie in a small village, the chances to be saved are really small because the family could have no transportation to the hospital or the closest hospital could be unprepared with blood or oxygen. Most of bombies incidents are happening to kids that are searching for iron to sell or they just play around with these bombies.
COPE is helping by informing the villages about UXO and also by providing mobile clinics to the most isolated villages. I kindly invite you to visit their center in Vientiane, you’ll find a meaningful visit.