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 on 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 under USD $6.6 million in 2021, over 400 national staff, and activities in four provinces including survey, clearance and ongoing capacity development support for the NRA.
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.
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 624 million square meters. As at 31 December 2021, NPA has cleared over 27 million square meters and removed over 133,000 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 2021, NPA’s Lao PDR programme has:
•surveyed more than 624 km2 and identified more than 4,500 contaminated tasks covering a total size of over 311 km2;
•cleared over 27 km2 of contaminated land, directly benefiting more than 69,000 persons; and
•destroyed more than 133,000 items of UXO through survey and clearance of confirmed hazardous area.
From 1 January to 31 December 2021, NPA’s Lao PDR programme has:
•cleared over 7.1km2 of previously UXO and CMR-contaminated areas on 89 tasks, out of which 81 were completed with the total size of more than 5.4 km2;
•found and safely destroyed over 10,600 items;
•surveyed over 4,9 km2 and identified 38 confirmed hazardous areas with a total size of more than 1.5 km2; and
•secured safe access to land, directly benefitting over 6,550 persons and indirectly benefitting 58,775 persons, further enabling development efforts.
In 2021, 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”.
NPA is committed to gender and diversity-sensitive programming. In 2021, NPA partnered with Lao organisation, Proud to Be Us Laos, to carry out training programmes to strengthen gender equality policies and to mainstream gender and diversity at the workplace.
NPA is likewise committed to reducing its environmental footprint and promoting environmental awareness and sustainability. In 2021, in partnership with Zero Waste Laos, NPA held training programmes focused on green offices and operations for over 400 staff.