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 under USD $7.1 million in 2019, over 335 national staff, and activities in six 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 supports 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. NPA has conducted survey of hundreds of villages in southern Lao PDR to contribute to the ongoing National Cluster Munition Remnants Survey project, and as at June 2020, NPA has cleared nearly 15 million square meters and removed 84,000 explosive items, improving the lives of over 107,000 people. 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.