Humanitarian Disarmament in Lao PDR
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) has the unfortunate title of being the heaviest-bombed country per capita in history. From 1964 to 1973, over two million tonnes of ordnance was dropped Lao PDR in 580,000 bombing missions – the equivalent of one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
Up to 30 per cent of bombs dropped in Lao PDR failed to detonate on impact, leaving up to 90 million unexploded submunitions scattered across the landscape.
Cluster munition contamination is among the highest in the world when measured against the population, and extensive contamination poses a risk to the livelihoods, socio-economic development and quality of life of those living in affected communities. The link between cluster munition contamination and poverty levels is well-recognised, and high levels of poverty often demands that affected communities undertake unsafe land use practices. Many people use land for farming and grazing livestock despite evidence of contamination, and often this is out of necessity as the areas with the highest level of contamination are also some of the poorest and least developed in Lao PDR.
NPA’s programme in Laos is one of the biggest in the Humanitarian Disarmament portfolio, with an annual turnover of NOK 48,000,000 in 2018, over 310 national staff, and activities in six provinces including survey, clearance and capacity development of the NRA and UXO Lao. NPA is one of the oldest and most diverse international mine action organisations operating in Lao PDR.
NPA has been present in Lao PDR since 1997. For the first ten years, NPA supported the national clearance operator, UXO Lao, with technical assistance and quality assurance, before starting its own operations in Saravane province in 2009. NPA now operates in four provinces, and plans to expand into a fifth in the near future. The programme values close working relationships with the National Regulatory Authority for the UXO Sector (NRA) and UXO Lao. NPA undertakes capacity development activities with the NRA in Vientiane, and works alongside UXO Lao in a monitoring and capacity development role in Luang Prabang province.
The scale of the contamination in Lao PDR is significant but yet to be fully defined as a comprehensive, evidence-based survey has not yet been completed in every province. NPA has conducted survey of hundreds of villages in southern Laos to contribute to the ongoing National Cluster Munition Remnants Survey project, and has cleared nearly 8.8 million m2 and removed 68,000 explosive items, improving the lives of over 98,000 people. Providing communities with information on the location of confirmed hazardous areas, and the clearance of these hazardous areas, gives villagers the asssurance that they can use their land without risk of injury or death. Removing fear of accidents when using land is one of the most significant impacts of NPA’s work in Lao PDR.
Lao PDR was one of the first countries to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008, and the treaty entered into force in 2010. Laos was instrumental in treaty negotiations, and actively works to promote universalization of the treaty.
Fourteen of the country’s 17 provinces, and up to a quarter of the villages in Lao PDR, are severely contaminated with cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance.
Laos has suffered the highest recorded number of cluster munitions casualties in the world.
At least 186 different types of munitions have been found in Lao PDR.
Around 500km2 of land has been confirmed as contaminated, however it is estimated that around 1,600km2 will require clearance. Survey efforts to fully define the extent of contamination, and to help prioritise the areas of highest need for clearance, are ongoing.
United States Department of State (USDOS),
Fagforbundet (Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees)
Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao),
Mines Advisory Group (MAG)