Unexploded Ordnance in Laos - UXO LAO
The Secret War in Laos
For over twenty years after the fall of Saigon in 1975, the US had vehemently denied allegations that they spearheaded the most ruthless bombing campaign the world had ever known. Not until 1994 would the United States admit to the fact that such an event occurred unbeknownst to the rest of the world in Laos between 1964 and 1973 during what is now dubbed as the Secret War in Laos.
So why was the US Military in Laos in the first place? The main reason is because at the time, Laos was undergoing a Civil War between the Communist Pathet Lao who were receiving support from the Viet Cong and Soviets) and the Royal Lao Government. During the Vietnam War and In an effort to conquer South Vietnam, the Viet Cong ran supply lines through Northern Laos, which is known today as the Ho Chi Minh Trail. In truth, there were dozens of these so called supply lines running through Xiang Khuang, the Plains de Jarres, and the rest of Northern Laos. Of course the US Military knew this and so concentrated its firepower towards probable areas of such with the help of Thai and Hmong forces led by General Vang Po. The famous "Domino Theory" dictated that should Laos fall to Communism, that Thailand, Cambodia and Burma were sure to follow. In essence, the Royal Lao Government and the US Military shared a common enemy in the Pathet Lao and the Viet Cong. It's believed that the lives of thousands of American troops were spared due to this Secret War. However, over 50,000 Lao were compromised and killed in the process.
Inside the Numbers
It is estimated that out of the 2 million tons of bombs, including 250 million cluster bombs that were dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973, approximately 30 percent did not detonate. At least 13,000 people in Laos were killed by the remaining 30 percent of these cluster bombs which are now referred to as UXOs or unexploded ordnance and many more were either maimed or injured (areas in which UXO LAO are not present cannot yet be accounted for). The Northeastern Lao province of Xiang Khuang with its capital of Phonsavanh was a central target as the U.S. military believed this to be a Communist Pathet Lao hotspot during the Secret War in Laos. Despite the fact that the Geneva Convention in 1962 declared Laos a neutralist country, its Secret War would see to it that it became the most bombed country the world has ever known—more so than Germany and Japan during World War II combined, as a total of 580,000 deadly bombing missions were conducted for nearly a decade. So what does that equate to? That’s one bombing mission every eight minutes around the clock for nine years. Being that this war was in fact kept secret hinders the exact numbers, but in 1994, the US Military did acknowledge that 1.36 million metric tons of bombs were indeed dropped on Laos.
It's estimated that 30% or 250 million of all the bombs that were dropped during the Secret War did not explode, which lends credence to the name UXO or unexploded ordnance. Over 50,000 Lao were killed as a result and thousands more were injured and/or maimed. The vast majority of the bombs used at the time was a new and lethal bomb called cluster bombs. Typically, cluster bombs (BLU-26) weigh between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds which open up in mid-air and release between 650 and 670 sub munitions called "bombies." Within each of these bombies are upwards of 200 pieces of shrapnel which rip and maim its unsuspecting victims. One of the nicknames for these bombies are "Evil Bombs" as they continue to plague the entire countryside of Northern Laos forty years after the Secret War. It's estimated that over 9 million bombs have still yet to be found and disposed of which will take roughly 100 years.
UXO A Growing Problem
To this day, UXO is still very much a problem to the rural countrysides of Northern Laos as it is a constant and lethal threat to indigenous farmers and especially children who are not aware of the dangers it imposes (bombies look very much like baseballs or oranges). UXO continue to kill and maim its many unsuspecting victims today when clearing the countryside for farming and house building. In addition to this scrap dealers pay 600 KIP (6 cents USD) per kilo in which they sell for $2,000 KIP in Thailand. Diffusing of UXO pose another problem and with the scarcity of food and supplies, Northern Laos' inhabitant's penchant to locate UXO with metal detectors is very enticing, as one "big bomb" can in turn easily feed an entire family.
Bombies - An Award Winning Documentary
Set in the countryside of Laos, this documentary highlights the extreme
dangers that cluster bombs illegally dropped by American war planes
during the Vietnam War still pose to the civilian population in Laos. This is the first nine minutes and thirty-three seconds of the film. If you'd like to purchase the entire film, you may do so by CLICKING HERE
Cluster Bomb Facts
- Cluster munitions severely disrupt the lives and livelihoods of 400 million people worldwide
- 85 percent of cluster bomb casualties are civilians and 23 percent are children
- One cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets (or submunitions) and typically scatters them across an area the size of 2-4 football fields
- Bomblets are small, often the size of a 'D' battery or a tennis ball and have a failure rate of up to 30 percent; unexploded bomblets become de facto landmines
- At least 75 countries around the world stockpile cluster munitions and 34 are known to have produced more than 210 types of cluster munitions
- Cluster bombs impede economic development, restrict access to water and deprive children of safe access to education
- Cluster munitions have been used in at least 30 countries and territories
- The global stockpile of cluster bomb submunitions totals approximately 4 billion, with a quarter of these in U.S. hands
- Unexploded bomblets were responsible for the death of nearly 10% of the U.S. fatalities in the Gulf War
- The United States dropped 19 million in Cambodia, 70 million in Vietnam and 208 million in Laos
- The U.S. executed over 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, dropping, on average, an entire planeload of bombs every eight minutes, around the clock, for nine years.
- The most cluster contaminated areas are in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Laos, Kosovo and Vietnam.
What Your Donations Pay For
The following is a breakdown of where your contributions go in accordance with the MAG Lao Visitor Centre. Please have a look:
Visitor Centres - donation guidelines
Clearing 10 square metres of contaminated land
500 metres of Danger! marking tape
One week’s salary for a Lao UXO technician
Stretcher for medic
GPS unit for Community Liaison Teams to mark UXO location
Electronic exploder unit for controlled destruction of UXO
Firing cable (5,000 metres)
One month’s salary for a 14-person UXO Clearance team
Deep search UXO detector
Courtesy of MAG
UXO LAO and MAG: A Look To the Future
It's estimated that it will take another one-hundred years or so to rid Xiang Khuang and the Plains de Jarres region of Laos completely of UXO. With the enduring support of MAG (Mines Advisory Group) the length of time in which Northern Laos will be free of such a threat may be shortened.
In 2008, MAG located and destroyed 98,061 items of UXO. 3,763,582 square metres of land were cleared. Sixty-five per cent of this land was for agriculture, with the remainder cleared for schools, access roads, bridges, irrigation canals and toilets or water supply.
UXO LAO is making strides in eradicating UXO and other threats by not only clearing and demolishing them to prevent potential harm but are also helping to educate and raise UXO awareness to the populace. On a yearly basis, UXO LAO clears roughly 200 to 300 hectares of land to enable safe farming and house building to residents of Northern Laos.
Ironically, the US military spent approximately $250,000 million a day between 1964 and 1973 bombing Northern Laos, yet are spending that much annually to Laos in reparations. There is still much to be done in order to stop the production, trade, and especially the utilization of cluster bombs. Hopefully the rest of the world can learn the travesties that have and will plague Laos for generations to come.
Your Support Helps: Please Make a Generous Contribution to UXO LAO, UXO-NRA, or MAG
- MAG (Mines Advisory Group) | Donate to MAG
A small donation can make a huge difference to MAG's work
UXO ready for demolition
UXO demolition site
A big bomb grave site in Laos
A UXO risk awareness session
A community awareness member and her puppet
A puppet show conducted by members of UXO LAO raises awareness to villagers in Northern Laos
UXO containment site. Translated, it actually says: Be careful! Bomb!
Apparently, bombs make good fences rather than good neighbors.
A bomb-converted flower bed
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© 2010 dohn121