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 an estimated 80 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 Lao PDR is one of the biggest in the Mine Action and Disarmament portfolio, with an annual turnover of just over USD $6.8 million in 2020, over 335 national staff, and activities in five provinces including survey, clearance and capacity development of the NRA and UXO Lao.
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 conducts survey and clearance in four provinces in southern Lao PDR. 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 in 2020, supported 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. Towards this end, NPA has conducted survey of hundreds of villages in southern Lao PDR to contribute to the ongoing National Cluster Munition Remnants Survey project, surveying a total of over 619 million square meters. As at 31 December 2020, NPA has cleared over 17 million square meters and removed nearly 119,000 explosive items. Providing communities with information on the location of confirmed hazardous areas, and the clearance of these hazardous areas, gives villagers the assurance 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.
Since the start of the programme until 31 December 2020, NPA’s Lao PDR programme has:
• surveyed 619,245,000m2 and identified 4,483 contaminated tasks covering a total size of 310,330,321m2
• cleared 17,226,951m2 of contaminated land, directly benefiting 65,837 persons; and
• destroyed 118,961 items of UXO through survey and clearance of confirmed hazardous area;
From 1 January to 31 December 2020, NPA’s Lao PDR programme has:
• cleared over 4,468,809m2 of previously UXO and CMR-contaminated areas on 69 tasks;
• found and safely destroyed over 13,139 items; and secured safe access to land, directly benefitting 7,690 persons and indirectly benefitting 42,562 persons, further enabling development efforts.
In 2020, Lao PDR’s national UXO survey and clearance programme received a score of 7.1 out of 10 in NPA’s Mine Action Review publication, Clearing Cluster Munition Remnants, with performance ranking of “Good”.