Foreign Minister Bob Carr has announced Australia will contribute $5.4 million to help Laos clear unexploded ordnance (UXO) and care for survivors of explosions.
Senator Carr announced Australia’s continued support for UXO clearance in Luang Prabang, one of nine heavily contaminated provinces.
Laos remains the most heavily bombed country per capita in history, the result of millions of tonnes of ordnance dropped on it during the Indo-China war.
Up to 30 per cent of ordnance dropped during the Indo-China War failed to detonate on impact and left a legacy of widespread contamination by UXO. The most common were cluster munitions, also known as “bombies”, around 80 million of which were left behind after the war. These are small, round bombs that when detonated spray out hundreds of ball bearings, killing and maiming those nearby. It is estimated that up to a third of the country – about 87,000 square kilometres – is contaminated by UXO. Around half of potential agricultural land is contaminated, making UXO a central cause of poverty in rural Laos as most villagers depend on agriculture for incomes and collect food from the land.
More than 20,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of UXO since 1974, and dozens more continue to be killed or injured each year. Many of the victims are children, who disturb UXO while playing. All 17 provinces in Laos have some UXO contamination affecting both villages and valuable agricultural land. Around 800,000 hectares are prioritised for clearance and Australia continues to be a longstanding supporter of Laos in this task.
Australia’s $5.4 million will support the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, the country’s national clearance operator, and other organisations to clear more than 2,500 hectares of agricultural land and access ways, benefiting 130,000 people.
Australia will help to provide rehabilitation services for 4,000 UXO accident survivors and other people with disabilities, and mine risk awareness education for communities. The program will support a national survey of UXO contamination to ensure better prioritisation of UXO clearance efforts, and improve human resources capacity in the sector.
The support will be delivered through the Laos Australia Rural Livelihoods Program, announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard during her visit to the country in November last year. The program will provide a total $43 million over the four years to 2016 to increase the economic security and resilience of poor women and men in rural Laos.
Responsibility for removing unexploded ordnance lies with UXO Lao, the national clearance operator. It works in the nine province most affected by UXO and was established in 1996 by the Lao Government with the support of UNDP, UNICEF, Australia and other donors.
UXO Lao clears lands for agriculture, community purposes such as schools, hospitals, temples, and water supply facilities. UXOLao also conducts risk-reduction education activities in affected communities.
UXO Lao in Luang Prabang
Senator Carr visited UXO-clearing work in Luang Prabang province - home to a world-heritage listed capital city and national parks sheltering important bird and animal life; and thousands of unexploded bombs. There are 12 districts that make up Luang Prabang Province; ten of them are contaminated with UXO, mainly cluster bombs. UXO Lao Luang Prabang was established in 1998 with the support from the German Government and conducts clearance operations in the 10 districts, along with mine risk education across the entire province. Since starting operations, UXO Lao Luang Prabang has cleared about 2250 hectares or land and destroyed or removed more than 150,000 UXO items. Staff have visited more than 900 communities to conduct risk awareness activities, reaching more than 400,000 people.