February 14th, 2010 | Published in Laos
Legacies of War (“Legacies”) announces the release of its conference report, “A Peaceful Legacy Now: Briefing & Discussion on Cluster Bomb Removal and Assistance in Laos,” which details the current status of cluster bomb clearance, victim assistance and risk awareness education in Laos and recommends a substantial increase in U.S. funding for these activities. The report contains the key findings and recommendations that emerged from the first U.S.-based meeting on the topic of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos, convened by Legacies in Washington, D.C. on November 5, 2009.
“The report contains the most up-to-date information on the issue of UXO in Laos,” says Brett Dakin, Chair of Legacies’ Board of Directors. He adds, “The November conference offered an historic opportunity to hear about the U.S. Vietnam War-era bombing and to discuss the current status of UXO clearance and related programs. This was the first time representatives of the U.S. and Lao governments and humanitarian organizations have all sat down together in one room to share their perspectives on finally addressing the long-term problem of UXO in Laos. We now have a clearer picture of the problem, and how to finally bring this 40-year old tragedy to an end.”
Legacies’ conference follows on the 2008 signing of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and improved U.S.-Laos relations, reflecting growing international attention to the issue of cluster bombs. Presenters included: Lao Ambassador to the U.S. H.E. Phiane Philakone, Lao Ambassador to the UN Mission H.E. Kanika Phommachanh, Charles Stonecipher of the U.S. State Department, and representatives from Handicap International, Mines Advisory Group, World Education/Consortium, Humpty Dumpty Institute, and the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions, among others.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history. Vietnam War-era bombings left nearly half of the country contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Today, cluster bombs litter forests, rice fields, villages, school grounds, roads, and other populated areas. Tens of thousands of people have been killed or injured by UXO since the bombing ceased; each year there continue to be more than 300 new casualties, most of whom are children. Nearly 40 years on, only a fraction of these munitions have been destroyed.
• Global Role of Laos: The government of Laos is committed to eliminating the terrible human and economic costs of UXO contamination. Toward this goal, Laos was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Laos is set to host the First Meeting of the State Parties to the CCM sometime in 2010 once 30 countries have ratified the treaty.
• UXO Effect on Development in Laos: The United Nations has designated Laos as one of the Least Developed Countries in the world. Progress on UXO issues in Laos is essential for making Laos a safe place to live and lifting the economy out of poverty in accordance with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
• Effective UXO Sector in Laos: The UXO clearance sector in Laos has evolved into a highly efficient and effective sector, featuring effective government oversight and increasing capacity among government agencies, NGOs, and commercial operators working in the country. A representative of the U.S. State Department’s Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA) program called Laos the “gold standard” in the UXO clearance sector.
• Clear Plan for Future: The National Regulatory Authority (NRA), the agency within the government of Laos responsible for UXO issues, has outlined its UXO clearance goals in Safe Path Forward Strategic Plan (2010-2020). However, successful implementation of this plan will require substantial additional funding. The NRA currently receives about $14 million a year total, but estimates it will need around $24 million a year to meet its ten-year goals.
• Victim Assistance Needs: At present, victim assistance programs in Laos receive only half the necessary funding needed to adequately help victims and their families. Funding through NGOs and UNICEF is $2.5 million annually, which pays for data collection, medical care, physical and psychosocial rehabilitation, economic rehabilitation and vocational training, and advocacy.
• Alarming Decline in Funding: Despite the efficiency and effectiveness of UXO clearance in Laos, unfortunately there is a downward trend in funding. International funding for UXO in Laos declined by 22% from 2007 to 2008. Despite the continuing and clear needs in Laos, this follows the overall international trend of decreased funding for demining activities.
One of the key recommendations is to double U.S. funding for UXO clearance in Laos to $7 million per year, with substantial additional increases over the next ten years. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. spent an average of $2 million per day for nine years bombing Laos. In recent years, the U.S. has spent approximately $2.7 million per year on UXO clearance in Laos; in 2009 Laos will receive a total of $3.5 million through different NGOs. Other key recommendations can be found in the full report at:
About Legacies of War:
Legacies of War is a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace.
Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director, Legacies of War