50 years on from the end of US bombing, Laos needs 50 more years to be clear of explosive remnants of war
Press Release | London, 24th December 2022, 16:30 GMT
Press Release | London, 24th December 2022, 16:30 GMT
Fifty years ago, on the 27th of January 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed, signalling the beginning of U.S. military disengagement in Vietnam and the end of its nine-year bombing campaign of Laos. Half a century on, Laos still remains heavily contaminated by explosive remnants of war which, at current rates, will take another fifty years to clear.
Laos is the country most polluted by cluster munitions in the world. More than 2 million tonnes of bombs and more than 270 million cluster munitions were dropped over Laos between 1964 and 1973.
An estimated 80 million cluster munitions did not explode on impact, and still lie dormant in rice fields, waterways and on roads.
Approximately 10,000+ villages are contaminated by cluster munitions and other unexploded ordnance.
Since 1964, more than 50,000 people in Laos have been killed or injured in accidents caused by explosive remnants of war (ERW). Approximately half that figure occurred during peace time.
Only in 2000 did the U.S., during the Presidency of Bill Clinton, recognise the extent of its bombing campaigns in Laos.
Ending the war did not end the contamination from explosive weapons. Laos remains the most polluted country in the world by cluster munitions, and estimates say it will take another 50 years before Laos is ERW-free.
Humanity & Inclusion (HI) has been assisting victims of ERW in Laos since 1983.
In 1996, HI conducted the first national study on the socio-economic impact of unexploded ordnance that cover more than two thirds of Laotian territory.
HI conducts clearance operations and risk education sessions in three of the worst-affected districts of Savannakhet province, Sepon, Nong and Villabully, to raise the awareness of communities.
Clearance operations and risk education sessions helped bring down the annual number of reported victims from 308 in 2010 to 63 in 2021.
Since 2006, HI’s demining teams have cleared more than 574 hectares of land and destroyed some 43,000 ERW (bombs, cluster munitions and other explosive devices).
The organisation has also set up a mobile team which travels to areas at the request of communities to remove identified ERW.
On 6th June 1964, two U.S. Navy aircraft were shot down in the north of Laos by the Laotian political and paramilitary communist organisation, Pathet Lao, allied to North Vietnam. In retaliation, President Johnson ordered the U.S. air force to bomb their positions in north Laos.
Eight days later, the secret, intensive and daily bombing of Laos, named operation Barrell Roll, commenced. Today, as a result, civilians in more than 10,000 villages face the risk of being killed or injured by explosive remnants from a war that ended 50 years ago.
Cluster munitions can be dropped from aircraft or fired from the ground and are designed to break open in mid-air, releasing the submunitions and scattering them over a zone, hitting civilians living in the surrounding area as a result.
In principle, cluster munitions are designed to explode on impact, either when they hit the ground or the target. However, an estimated 5% to 40% of cluster munitions do not explode on impact and continue to maim and kill long after the end of a conflict.
These offensive weapons aim to saturate and prevent access to an area in which one or more military targets have been located. Contamination makes it dangerous to access villages and public spaces, such as markets, schools and health centres.
Contamination also represents a major barrier to Laos’ development by limiting farming and forestry activities, and by increasing the cost of infrastructure projects in rural areas. Clearance operations aid the socio-economic development of Laos and also support the livelihood of communities.
George Graham, the Chief Executive of HI UK, a charity which campaigns and fundraises for people with disabilities of all types, including those caused by conflict, said it is important to mark this anniversary, adding:
HI has been assisting victims of ERW in Laos for the last forty years. HI’s teams conduct clearance operations and risk education sessions for communities in the most heavily contaminated areas.
By raising the awareness of communities, HI is helping to reduce unsafe behaviour and the number of accidents. These combined measures led to a drop in the number of annually reported victims from 308 in 2010 to 63 in 2021.
Lamngueun, who has been a HI explosive ordnance disposal expert for 15 years, is very proud to be part of HI’s clearance team in Laos. When she was a child, her father was injured when he hit an explosive device while he was working in the rice field.
HI conducts clearance operations and leads risk education campaigns in Phongsaly, Houaphan and Vientiane. The organisation leads rehabilitation and health programs in Savannakhet, Vientiane; Houaphan and Luang Prabang. It also promotes inclusion of people with disabilities in society and basic services in Vientiane, Attapeu, Champasak, Savannakhet, Xianghouang, Houaphan and Luang Prabang.
HI’s spokespeople are available to answer your questions.
George Graham, Chief Executive at Humanity & Inclusion UK
Alexandra Letcher, HI’s Regional Armed Violence Reduction (AVR) Specialist, Mekong and Myanmar, Thailand
Yvon Chevanton, HI’s Head of Clearance Operations, Laos
Perrine Benoist, HI’s Head of Armed Violence Reduction
For interviews, please contact Rand Odeh, UK Media Officer on +44 (0)7535 024 895 or [email protected]
Access can be arranged to visit HI’s operations in Laos. Please let us know if you are interested.
Humanity & Inclusion (HI) was founded in 1982 as Handicap International to orthopaedically fit thousands of landmine amputees on the Thai-Cambodian border.
There are now eight national associations, including HI UK which was established in London in 2000.
The charity works in 60 countries in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster supporting disabled and vulnerable people to help meet their basic needs, improve living conditions and promote respect for dignity and fundamental rights.
For the past 30 years, HI has been campaigning against anti-personnel mines and cluster bombs, with projects ranging from bomb clearance, risk education to teach civilians about the dangers of these weapons and victim assistance.
This led to the signing of the Ottawa Mine Ban Convention (1997). Shortly afterwards, HI was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
HI is one of six founding organisations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and co-founder of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) and the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW).
In 2018 the organisation changed its name to Humanity & Inclusion but is still known by its original title in some countries. · To donate to HI UK, visit humanity-inclusion.org.uk, call our Supporter Care team on 0330 555 0156 to donate by credit or debit card, or send a cheque payable to "Humanity & Inclusion UK" to: Humanity & Inclusion UK, 9 Rushworth Street, London, SE1 0RB.