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Laos is the world’s most heavily bombed country in the world to date. During the Vietnam War, over 2 million tons of ordnance were dropped over Laos. Most of these were cluster bomb shells which contained hundreds of individual “bombies”, about the size of a tennis ball. It is believed that around 30% of these bombs did not explode.
Life, however, goes on, and children go to school, as they would anywhere else in the world. They seem to go about their lives normally. As dangerous as it might be, UXO could be anywhere and bombs could detonate anytime.
Children in school play with their friends, oblivious maybe, or maybe just unmindful… While from the outside, one can’t help to wonder how close they might be to danger.
Ban Khan Khai, a.k.a. the “Handicapped Village” houses families of victims who have suffered a UXO related accident. I was allowed in one of the homes to see how a family lived. This baby girl played in her stroller while her mother juggled taking care of her with the house chores.
Cattle raising and farming are some of the most common activities for the locals in Phonsavan. Rice and coffee being among the main agricultural products. A lot of these UXO related accidents happen while farmers are working in the fields.
The heavily bombed territory has affected the economy directly, as some of the land is difficult to farm for the presence of UXO. As an effort to increase the productivity of the agricultural industry, the number of tractors were doubled in the 80’s and now, the Kubota, Rotavator or tok-tok, is one of the most common forms of transportation among locals.
Out of the 18 provinces in Laos, 10 are heavily affected by UXO, and the Xiangkhouang province is one of the most heavily bombed areas in the country for it lied right on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Unsuspecting farmers work while UXO Lao clearing teams clear the land of live explosives.
Some of the bombs dropped had timers which failed to complete their cycle before they hit the ground, remaining live and unexploded, but still extremely dangerous for the timers can complete their cycle and detonate without warning.
UXO Lao carries out a series of controlled detonations using Russian made TNT to clear the fields from the dangerous “bombies”.
Ban Khan Khai is home to a number of victims like Bounphanh who suffered UXO related accidents.
Say Thani who also lives in Ban Khan Khai, lost his left leg at the age of 17 when he was on the way to school and an american plane bombed the area. Several of his friends died in the attack. He is now 64 and dedicates his life to making bamboo cages for fighting cocks.
Thai is 13 years old. He and his dad went to gather wood in a nearby forest in August 2014. His dad hit a bombie which was embedded in a tree and lost his life. Thai witnessed the accident and suffered minor injuries due to flying shrapnel.
Many victims who suffered UXO related accidents lose limbs and even their sight needing all sorts of help from wheelchairs to prosthetic limbs.
Ban Napia is also known as the “Handicraft Village” where the residents turn bombs into all sorts of useful objects like spoons, pendants, bracelets…
Quality of Life Association (QLA) provides victims with support by covering hospital costs and providing victims with training to learn new jobs that will allow them to continue to make a living and provide for their families even after suffering major injuries. QLA also supports families of those who die in UXO related accidents. Handicrafts made by victims are sold in their shop and proceeds go back into helping people affected by UXO.
Since 1994 less than 0.5% of UXO have been cleared. If clearing efforts continue at the same pace, land wont be cleared in hundreds of years. For that reason, any help is good, the more voices reminding the world of this problem, the more chances innocent people will have of being saved from suffering these horrible accidents. Please see the end of this article for a list of organisations that could do with your help.
How can we help?