Nearly 45 years after the end of the Vietnam War and the American bombings, Laos remains the most contaminated country in the world by unexploded remnants of war, particularly cluster munitions. Buried in forests and cultivated fields, they constitute both a direct threat to the population, mainly rural, and an obstacle to the development.
For the greatest effectiveness, HI deploys combined actions of clearance (demining), education of the villagers at risk of these weapons to prevent more accidents, and assistance to victims including support for livelihood activities. Initially working in Savannakhet province, HI teams are now continuing their activities in Houaphan, a mountainous province in the north of the country.
Demining: cleaning up the country to give back the land to the villagers
Since 2006, HI's demining teams have cleared more than 4,000,000 square metres of land and destroyed nearly 30,000 explosive remnants of war - 30,000 lives potentially saved. The objective is to secure areas of human activity, such as villages and agricultural land.
In Houaphan province, where HI has been working since early 2018, thousands of square meters of land still need to be cleared to eliminate the threat. HI has identified 379 villages contaminated with unexploded explosive remnants of war.
This includes aerial bombs and cluster bombs, commonly referred to as "bombies" locally. Teams also find many other types of explosive remnants such as grenades, mortars, rockets, missiles... and even landmines. Each of these devices requires a different technique for detection and destruction.
And, unusual in Laos which is largely unpolluted by landmines, the team has also identified 26 minefields that directly affect 12 villages in Houameung district. Such demining operations require a completely different technique, which is even more meticulous because it involves advancing centimetre by centimetre, and dangerous because landmines explode with the slightest pressure.
In 2019, during the first 10 months of the year, HI teams of 73 deminers found and destroyed nearly 2,000 explosive remnants and cleared 32 hectares of agricultural land.