Lao PDR has the distinction of being one of the most heavily bombed nations in the world. From 1964 to 1973, during the period known by the Lao people as the Second Indochina war, Lao PDR suffered intense ground battles, as well as some of the heaviest aerial bombardment in world history. During this period, more than 500,000 bombing missions dropped over two million tons of ordnance, or nearly one ton for every man, woman and child in the population at the time. Most of these were anti-personnel cluster bomblets intended to explode on or shortly after impact, but the failure rate may have been as high as 30 percent. As a result, more than 40 years after the end of war, unexploded ordnance (UXO) still affects 15 of the 18 provinces. The National UXO Socio-Economic Impact Survey conducted in 1996-97 found that 86 of the 133 districts in the country (or 25 percent of all villages) reported continued UXO contamination.
UXO remains a challenge for the progress of development in Lao PDR. An estimated 80 million cluster sub-munitions remain unexploded. UXO limits safe access to agricultural and land for development projects and makes construction of transport and power infrastructure, schools, hospitals and water supply facilities much more costly and dangerous. For this reason, the Lao PDR assigns an own national Sustainable Development Goal, goal 18, to reduce the impact of UXO.
UXO is also a major humanitarian threat. Over 50,000 casualties were reported from 1964 to 2012, meaning an average of 997 people a year killed, injured or maimed by UXOs. The bulk of victims were of active working age between ages 15 and 35 years. In more recent years, effective mine risk education and the clearance of high risk areas have seen the number of casualties dropping from 300 casualties in 2008 and 119 casualties in 2010 to 41 casualties in 2017.
A significant proportion of UXO casualties are children. Children represented 37 per cent of all reported UXO victims in 2017.
Despite the challenges, the past few years have seen a number of achievements:
- The number of UXO casualties has been reduced by 85 per cent over the last decade. In recent years, with less than 50 casualties reported annually, the national target of less than 75 casualties a year has been met.
- Risk awareness on mines and explosive remnants of war have been integrated into school curricula.
- The Government has adopted a new methodology for finding and clearing bombs that is expected to enhance the effectiveness of UXO clearance operations, which has also resulted in a sharp increase in the land area being released. This has led to an improved focus of resources on areas with confirmed contamination, as shown by an increase of over 460 per cent in the number of explosive remnants of war removed per hectare. The methodology is more results-oriented and future reporting will reflect this focus.
- Data collection and analysis are crucial aspects of victim assistance. A survivor tracking system has been developed as an essential step towards ensuring the rights of cluster munition survivors, in compliance with the national strategy, Lao PDR’s own MDG 9 and article 5 of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
- Progress has been made towards the transfer of mine action tasks to national actors. As the transfer of mine action functions progresses, regular assessments and strategy adjustments are necessary to ensure sustainable results. A capacity assessment of both the national authority and the United Nations was conducted in 2014, and medium-and long-term strategies for both organizations agreed on.
Reducing the impact of UXO is Lao PDR's own national Sustainable Development Goal. By commiting to Goal 18 as a part of the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Laos holds itself accountable to advancing the reduction of UXO impact and contributing to many other goals at the same time, e.g. Goal 1, Ending Poverty. An integrated approach is crucial for progress across the multiple goals. Learn more about Goal 18 and its targets.