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 USD $8.2 million in 2022, over 440 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 630 million square meters. As at 31 March 2023, NPA has cleared over 34.5 million square meters and removed and destroyed over 142,500 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 March 2023, NPA’s Lao PDR programme has:
•surveyed more than 630 km2 and identified more than 4,570 contaminated tasks covering a total size of over 314 km2;
•cleared over 34.5 km2 of contaminated land; and
•destroyed more than 142,500 items of UXO through survey and clearance of confirmed hazardous area.
From 1 January to 31 December 2022, NPA’s Lao PDR programme has:
•cleared over 7.9km2 of previously UXO and CMR-contaminated areas on 90 tasks;
•found and safely destroyed over 8,980 items of unexploded ordnance;
•surveyed nearly 5.9 km2 and identified 45 confirmed hazardous areas with a total size of more than 2.1 km2; and
•secured safe access to land, directly benefitting over 14,330 persons and indirectly benefitting 57,000 persons, further enabling development efforts.
NPA is committed to promoting gender and diversity mainstreaming in all aspects of our work. In 2022, NPA continued its efforts to broaden inclusivity with support of Proud To Be Us Laos, a national organisation campaigning for the rights and non-discrimination of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender, identity, and expression (SOGIE).
NPA likewise remains committed to reducing its environmental footprint and promoting environmental awareness and sustainability. In 2022, NPA continued to work in cooperation with the national youth-volunteer organisation Zero Waste Laos. The topics for annual environmental trainings in 2022 for all 430+ field staff focused on resource and energy efficiency, climate change awareness, and reinforcing waste management and recycling activities.
NPA has a long-standing history of providing capacity development support to the national authority, NRA. In 2022, NPA commenced a 3-year stand-alone capacity development project to support the NRA’s information management capacity, with additional funding from the US Department of State.
- 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. Lao PDR was instrumental in the treaty's negotiations, and actively works to promote universalization of the treaty.
- Fourteen of the country’s 18 provinces, and up to a quarter of the villages in Lao PDR, are severely contaminated with cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance.
- Lao PDR 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.
- As at the end of 2021, a total of almost 1,530 km2 of cluster munition contaminated area had been identified through technical survey.
- While Lao PDR does not yet have a comprehensive or reliable estimate of nation-wide contamination, survey efforts to fully define the extent of contamination, and to help prioritise the areas of highest need for clearance, are ongoing.