Laos calls in army for UXO clearance

By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
July 11, 2012

An unexploded ordnance site being cleared by metal detectors in Laos. Credit: UXO Lao

The Lao National Regulatory Authority (NRA) is seeking the assistance of the Lao People’s Army to join forces with the Lao National UXO Programme (UXO Lao) for unexploded ordnance clearance this year.

“We will work with the Army’s UXO clearance teams because we want to clear more of our land each year,” NRA Director Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun told Vientiane Times on Tuesday.

By 2020 the government aims to have cleared UXO from 200,000 hectares of land, removing devices from 20,000 hectares each year.

UXO Lao employs teams of 22 people to clear one hectare each month, but even with many teams they can still only clear 5,000 hectares each year.

Almost 30,000 hectares of UXO-contaminated land have been cleared since 1996.

Mr Phoukhieo said the Army teams have to be further trained by the NRA and UXO Lao before they will be allowed to clear land.

“In one year Laos can clear about 5,000 hectares, but with the assistance of the army’s clearance teams we will be able to do much more. However, we cannot say just how much more as we have insufficient funding from the government to fully carry out the task,” he said.

The NRA must look for international donors to supplement the government budget to maximise the use of clearance teams from the Army in conjunction with UXO Lao staff.

“We think the target of clearing 200,000 hectares by 2020 will be difficult to achieve. It means clearing at least 20,000 hectares per year and we don’t have the financial resources to do this at present,” Mr Phoukhieo said

Currently, Laos receives funding from international donors amounting to about US$15 million per year, but this is not enough to meet the objective. That will require about US$30 million annually.

UXO Lao wants to create more teams to speed up clearance and return the land to the people, but they cannot do this because of funding constraints, Mr Phoukhieo explained.

A specialised Japanese-made Komatsu UXO clearance vehicle was used for a pilot programme in Xieng Khuang province from January to May. According to the NRA, however, the programme could not continue because the vehicle was unable to destroy all the cluster bombs. In fact only 50 percent of cluster sub-munitions could be destroyed.

It is estimated that out of the 2 million tonnes of bombs, including 288 million cluster bombs, that were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973 about 30 percent did not detonate.

It is thought that over 87,000 sq km of land is contaminated with UXO. A countrywide survey on the socio-economic impact of UXO in 1996/97 found significant contamination in 15 provinces, with 25 percent of all villages reporting UXO.

During this period, a total of 580,000 bombing missions were conducted, which averages out at one bombing mission every eight minutes around the clock for nine years.


Categories: Environment, Military, UXO Clearance | Leave a comment

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