NPA was very pleased to recently host a visiting delegation from the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the United States Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) to Vietnam. From 16 – 25 May 2022, PM/WRA Program Manager Mr Ethan Rinks and PM/WRA Program Advisor Dr Geary Cox were accompanied by senior United States Embassy Vietnam officials on their visit to NPA task sites and field offices in Quang Tri, Quang Binh and Thua Thien Hue provinces.
The visit was very welcome after two years of COVID-related travel restrictions that prevented international donors from visiting the NPA programme. NPA’s key national personnel in each province welcomed the opportunity to meet with the donors, to demonstrate the methodologies used by US-funded teams, and discuss successes and challenges with them.
“It was so great to have a visit from Ethan and Geary after so long,” said Ms Do Thi Thanh Nhan, NPA’s Provincial Programme Manager in Thua Thien Hue province, who was able to show the delegation the results of NPA’s important survey and clearance work in the province. “Our teams in A Luoi have worked so hard to conduct clearance of contaminated areas so local people can live without fear of explosive ordnance, and it was really rewarding to be able to show the US government the excellent results we have achieved and important local partnerships we have built thanks to their funding.”
Celebrating milestones towards an impact-free Quang Tri province
The WRA visit came not long after completion of non-technical survey (NTS) in all accessible villages in Quang Tri province. Non-technical survey is the first step in the cluster munition remnants survey (CMRS) process, which is used to identify the boundaries of confirmed hazardous areas (CHAs) with contamination from cluster munition remnants. Through NTS, all reasonable effort is used to identify, collect, analyse and report information in order to find direct evidence of cluster munitions. Information is gathered during a combination of desk assessment, village meetings, household interviews and individual interviews, with community members sharing their local knowledge of the contamination situation. More detailed information on NTS, and the longer CMRS process can be found in ‘Best Practice for Cluster Munition Remnants Survey in South East Asia’.
The NTS process is one of the most important parts of the land release system in Vietnam as it allows our teams to gather information directly from the people who live with explosive ordnance contamination every day,” said Provincial Programme Manager Nguyen Thi Dieu Linh. “The more time our teams spend gathering this information, the more efficient all follow-on processes become - including technical survey and clearance – because we can be confident that we have gathered as much initial information from the community as possible.”
On 8 April 2022, NPA’s NTS team visited the last accessible village in Quang Tri, located in the mountainous border district of Huong Hoa. In Long An village, NPA asked local people if they know of any unexploded ordnance in their village. Mr Ho Tien and his wife, an ethnic Bru Van Kieu couple who grow cassava in Long An village, confirmed with the team members that they had encountered wartime munitions while farming. “It is such a relief to know that our land will be surveyed and cleared so that local farmers will have safe land to farm,” said 20-year-old Ho Tien.
Since 2015, NPA has utilized funding from the United States Government to complete NTS in 728 villages, or 91% of all villages in the province. The remaining 72 villages in Quang Tri province remain inaccessible to international operators. In these villages, information was gathered from more than 70,000 people, of which 35% are women and girls.
“We make every effort to interview a broad spectrum of community members during NTS, including the elderly, children, and of course women and girls,” said Ms. Linh. “People in Quang Tri province use different parts of the land for different purposes, and are affected by explosive ordnance in many different ways. It’s important to speak to a diverse range of people so we can make sure their needs are met and that their information is used to benefit them as much as possible.”
The NTS process identified a total of 2,800 points of direct evidence, most of which have already been followed up by an NPA technical survey team.
Continued funding from the United States Government
Now that NTS is completed in all areas where NPA/RENEW is able to operate, all the NTS personnel have started training to learn technical survey, so they can join their colleagues in following up on the information learned during NTS. The United States Government committed USD $7.7 million (NOK 72,688,000) for NPA to complete technical survey and clearance of confirmed hazardous areas in Quang Tri province. Completion of technical survey, anticipated for April 2023, will enable a complete understanding of the contamination situation in the province, which provides valuable data for the planning and prioritization of clearance.
In Quang Binh province, just to the north of Quang Tri, NPA began conducting CMRS in 2020 with funding from the United States Government, who have recently committed USD $1.7 million (NOK 16,048,000) to extend the important survey work for another two years. Hue province, to the south of Quang Tri, was awarded USD $100,000 (NOK 944,000) for the continuation of a clearance project jointly implemented with the Vietnam National Mine Action Centre (VNMAC) until the end of 2022.
“Our project is only small compared to Quang Tri, but I hope one day we will see the same great results as our neighbours: a full understanding of the scope of cluster munition contamination across the province,” said Nguyen Thi Thuy Trang, NPA’s Provincial Programme Manager in Quang Binh. “This is the best way to ensure the clearance resources made available to us and other organisations by the United States Government can be used to help the most vulnerable people in Quang Binh.”
Increased support for Vietnam’s national mine action capacity
The US Government delegation also visited NPA’s capacity development partners at VNMAC, the Quang Binh Database and Coordination Unit (DBCU) and the Quang Tri Mine Action Centre (QTMAC). These national and provincial partners were able to share the successes of US-funded capacity development projects with the delegation. The visit was also a welcome opportunity for NPA’s partners to thank PM/WRA for their support after USD $5.45 million (NOK 51,448,000) funding for support to national partners over a four-year period was awarded to NPA earlier this year. This award supports the transfer of skills and technical expertise to VNMAC, QTMAC and the Quang Binh DBCU to strengthen coordination, regulatory management and information management of the mine action sector in Vietnam.
The United States Government have been dedicated and long-term supporters of NPA Vietnam’s activities in central Vietnam, and of NPA capacity development support to VNMAC and other provincial partners. NPA sincerely thanks the United States Government for their continued contributions to making people safe from the impact of explosive ordnance.