Mine Awareness Day: The Vietnam War is still claiming victims

April 4th is International Mine Awareness Day and DanChurchAid tells the story of Laos. The country where millions of bombs were dropped during the Vietnam War, and how the bombs still pose an everyday threat for the civilians in Laos

©Paulo Kawai
The civil population in Laos often live side by side with remnants of war

Usually it is a bit of an overstatement when someone says, it is ‘raining’ something – but to characterize the bombardments of Laos during the Vietnam War as ‘raining bombs’ is actually quite accurate.
During a period of nine years, an average of one air load of bombs was dropped every eight minutes, 24 hours a day. In total more than two million tons of bombs were raining down on the country from 1964 until 1973.
Friday April 4th is the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, where the international community emphasizes the problem with landmines and unexploded ordnance, which is afflicting many countries for several years, or even decades, after a conflict ends.

The most heavily bombed country ever

Bombardments as those in Laos is still source of societal concerns and personal tragedies long after the bombs are dropped, because many kinds of ammunition - especially cluster bomb submunitions – don’t explode, when they hit the ground.
“Cluster munitions are horrible weapons. They stay active for years and pose a serious threat to children as well as adults,” says Søren Adser Sørensen, Program Coordinator for Laos for DanChurchAid.
When it comes to unexploded ordnance and especially cluster munitions, there is no country as contaminated as Laos.
During the Vietnam War, the Americans wanted to stop the enemy in Vietnam from getting supplies through Laos, so they began the nine-year long air bombardment. More than 270 million submunitions were dropped and 80 million of these are believed to remain unexploded on the ground.
Even now, forty years after the bombardments stopped, the cluster munitions are claiming victims in Laos – at least one person gets killed by cluster munitions every third or fourth day. In addition are those, who survive their encounter with cluster bombs, but have to live with serious handicaps.

Another bowlful of rice

Some become victims of the bombs because they step on unexploded ordnance by accident during fieldwork, others are hurt because they deliberately handle ordnance.
“Laos is a very poor country and both scrap metal and the explosives inside an old bomb could bring in a little extra money. That’s why some people cannot resist the temptation of making a few extra dollars by tampering with a bomb – they know it could mean an extra bowlful of rice for their children,” says Søren Adser Sørensen.
DanChurchAid will begin a new project in Laos in 2014 clearing unexploded ordnance and educating people in the danger of handling it. The aim is to ensure fewer mine accidents and that rural areas – contaminated by mines today – will be safe for agriculture, habitation and infrastructure in the future.