Humanitarian Disarmament in Lao PDR
MBT: not a state party
CCM: state party; clearance deadline is 1 August 2020
Lao PDR has the unfortunate title of being the heaviest-bombed country per capita in history. Ten 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.
To date, more than 29,000 people have been killed and more than 21,000 injured due to accidents with unexploded ordnance. Though the number of incidents per year is reducing considerably, with total accidents and deaths numbering less than 50 in 2017, unsafe land use practices are still very common. Many people utilise land 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.
Norwegian People’s Aid (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. As NPA grew, operations were extended into Attapeu and Sekong provinces. NPA also operated in Khammouane province in 2016 and 2017 in a joint project with the Mines Advisory Group, and worked alongside UXO Lao in mixed survey teams in Xiengkhouang and Luang Prabang provinces.
Cluster munition remnants survey (CMRS) is the main methodology for NPA in Lao PDR. Before the use of CMRS, alternate survey methods had resulted in expensive, superfluous searches that spent unnecessary assets without finding contamination. The development of the CMRS approach in Lao PDR commenced in 2010 and the methodology was fully accepted in mid-2012. This process provides a clear estimation of clearance needs, and enables Lao PDR to make more specific and accurate assessments of needed assets and donor funding.
NPA now conducts UXO survey and clearance operations in Attapeu, Saravane and Sekong provinces in southern Lao PDR, and will be expanding operations into Champasak province in 2018 as part of a national cluster munition remnants survey and clearance project. The organisation has 28 operational teams, and all staff are multiskilled and capable of completing non-technical survey, technical survey, roving explosive ordnance disposal tasks or any clearance tasks as required.
For more information on cluster munition contamination, survey, and clearance in Lao PDR, see Mine Action Review’s Clearing Cluster Munitions 2017 report.
From 1964 to 1973, the United States dropped over two million tonnes of ordnance over Lao PDR in 580,000 bombing missions – the equivalent of one planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
Of the 580,000 bombing strikes on Lao PDR, it is estimated that 30 per cent failed to detonate on impact, leaving up to 90 million unexploded submunitions scattered across the landscape.
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.