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LAO PDR: UK support helps thousands in fear and poverty

Bombies in Laos

Cluster submunitions in Laos. Around a quarter of all the country's villages are contaminated with unexploded ordnance like these. [Photo: Sean Sutton / MAG] 




Three years since a ban came into force, findings illustrate the impact of cluster munitions and work being done to clear them in one of the world's worst affected countries.

More than 90% of people living in bomb-riddled areas of Laos still live in fear of cluster munitions and other deadly explosive items.  

Figures released by MAG today – three years since the ban on cluster munitions came into force – show the psychological and socio economic toll of cluster munitions and other explosive weapons  in Laos, even 40 years after conflict during the Vietnam War ceased.

But work supported by the UK government is making a difference.

Whilst challenges remain, data shows that clearance is working. In 2010, when the ban on cluster munitions entered into force, almost all (99%) of MAG’s beneficiaries in Laos felt unexploded ordnance (UXO) had a negative effect on their life. Following clearance and risk education work this has fallen by nearly 10% in 2013. The number of people worrying about explosive weapons on a daily basis has dropped by 27%.
 
Terrifyingly, 80% of people in affected areas are still using land that they know or suspect to be contaminated with deadly explosives.  

Results found that the most common worry is that children will be killed or injured whilst they are playing.

The most bombed country in the world per capita, at least two million tonnes of explosive weapons was dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. More than 270 million cluster munitions (or ‘bombies’, as they are known locally) were used, of which an estimated 80 million malfunctioned, remaining live and in the ground after the end of the war.  Approximately 25% of the country's 10,000+ villages are now contaminated with UXO.  
 
The link between UXO contamination and poverty and food insecurity is striking. It is no coincidence that 41 out of the 45 poorest districts in Lao PDR are affected by UXO contamination.
 
The UK government has helped people to rebuild their lives by funding a wide spectrum of MAG’s work with the Laos government and local partners, clearing cluster munitions and returning safe land back to farmers, families and communities.

MAG clears approximately 700 items of UXO a month in Laos, three quarters of which are cluster munition remnants. In the last 12 months, MAG operations were of direct benefit to over 22,000 people, half of whom were women and girls.

UK Ambassador to Laos, Philip Malone, follows closely the impact of cluster munitions and work being done by MAG and others in the country. “I salute the work MAG has been doing in Laos for almost 20 years to improve people’s lives through removing the threat of UXO from their land. UK funding has directly benefitted the lives of almost 350,000 people in rural areas and led to the clearance of over 6 million square metres of land.”
 
Says MAG’s Chief Executive Nick Roseveare: “The experience of Laos shows the long-lasting impact that cluster munitions can have on human suffering and development potential, and the long-term commitment needed to deal with the problem once and for all.

“A UN report released last week shows massive progress against the Millennium Development Goals, but 1 in 8 people are still malnourished. Cluster munitions, like landmines, snare people in a terrible cycle of poverty and desperation and – as the figures demonstrate – cause them to take risks to feed their families that are frankly terrifying.”

Campaigners at the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) agree that long term assistance, and prevention of future use, is vital. CMC Director Sarah Blakemore said, “Civilians in Laos suffered from sustained cluster munition attacks and decades later still suffer the consequences. We must learn lessons from Laos and ensure all countries join and adhere to the Convention on Cluster Munitions to prevent further suffering. Ongoing use of cluster munitions in Syria underlines the urgent need for countries yet to join the treaty to take action."

MAG is supporting countries all over the world to achieve their commitments under international treaties, including the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Entering into force three years ago today, the treaty bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and requires signatories to clear affected areas within 10 years and to destroy stockpiles of the weapon within eight years.  

Nick Roseveare also commented on the legacy facing the Syrian people, where the use of cluster munitions and other explosive weapons in populated areas has been documented and condemned by the international community. “So far, explosive weapons have accounted for 40% (21,871) of all deaths recorded in the Syrian conflict, at least 2,330 of them were children (Action On Armed Violence, 8 Jul 2013).

“Yet aside from the horror of maiming and killing innocent people, one of the most terrible things about cluster munitions, as we can see from Laos, is that they leave a lethal legacy for multiple generations to come, compromising the recovery of war-torn countries and their people for decades.

“The Syrian people will have to make desperate calculations between the continuing risk of injury by these weapons and their daily food and other needs, long after any ceasefire is signed.”

The problem: cluster munitions

Cluster bombs contaminate at least 24 states and three other areas, according to Cluster Munition Monitor 2012.

Cluster bombs, or cluster munitions, are weapons that can be dropped from the air by planes or fired from the ground. They open in mid-air and release numerous explosive bomblets or submunitions over a wide area.

A single Cluster Bomb Unit or CBU can contain hundreds of submunitions. Most explode immediately, but some (up to 10 per cent by some estimates) don’t. These bomblets are designed to pierce tank armour and carry more explosives than an anti-personnel landmine. Some look like balls, others are the size and shape of a torch battery and children often play with them, mistaking them for toys. Campaigners say that a third of recorded cluster munition casualties are children.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions

The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster submunitions and requires countries to clear affected areas within 10 years and to destroy stockpiles of the weapon within eight years.

The Convention includes groundbreaking provisions requiring assistance to survivors and affected communities. Signed in Oslo in December 2008, the Convention entered into force as binding international law on 1 August 2010. A total of 112 States have joined, of which 83 are States Parties.

Significant progress has also been made in the destruction of stockpiles, clearance of affected areas and support for cluster munition victims. Globally, the number of new cluster munition casualties has reduced annually.


1 August 2013

 
Surviving the Peace is a film about devastation and hope in the most bombed country on earth per capita. Open video in full page







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MAG (Mines Advisory Group) saves and improves lives by reducing the devastating effects armed violence and remnants of conflict have on people around the world.
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