Lao bomb clearing teams struggle to get funding

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Craters Restaurant decorated with cleared UXO in Phonsavan, Laos © Arno Maierbrugger

The clearing of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from heavy US bombing during the Vietnam War in Laos is being held back by shortfalls of funds from foreign donours, Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Lao service reported.

An official of the labour and social welfare department of Xieng Khouang province in northeastern Laos said that the work of UXO clearing teams in his province has now slowed due to severe cuts in support.

“We need a lot of funding,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This year we received only one million dollars, while usually we get at least two million.”

“We have difficult tasks to perform, like the clearing of forests, but we can’t do this now because we don’t have the people or the money to do the work,” he said.

An official in Khammouane province in central Laos told RFA said that support for clearance efforts in his province was also cut in half this year, leaving the hiring of workers and purchase of badly needed equipment out of reach.

“We now have only 160 workers, but we need at least 60 more to staff our teams,” the official said, adding that “our province usually receives two million dollars a year to support our work, but this year we got only a million.”

In Luang Prabang province in the northern part of the country, shortfalls of funds led recently to a three-month delay in the province’s clearing teams being paid, a source in the province said.

A delay in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between donour country Norway and the central government in Laos, which through its UXO Laos department distributes supporting funds to the provincial teams, had held up the workers’ pay, he said.

UXO Laos, the Lao national UXO clearance agency, is suffering a budget shortfall of $4.5 million for its work this year, according to reports by Vientiane Times, with an official in the department telling RFA recently that at least $1.5 million is now needed for work in southern provinces like Sekong, Salavan, and Attapeu.

Foreign donours have urged Laos to remove unexploded ordnance from up to 10,000 hectares this year, this year, but because of the budget shortfall, the teams are able to clear only 3,500 hectares.

The US committed $30 million last year to UXO clearance in Laos, the final tranche of the $90 million that the US has committed over a three-year period back in 2016. The US Congress may provide an additional $30 million for Laos in the coming years.

The US military in the so-called Secret War in Laos dropped more than two million tonnes of bombs on Laos over a nine-year period up to 1973 while attempting to disrupt the Vietcong supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War.

Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of dangerous UXO. Some 20,000 civilians are believed to have been killed or injured by explosives since the end of the war. Around 40 per cent of the victims in the past ten years have been children.

International assistance for bomb clearance in Laos began in earnest only about 20 years ago and experts believe that it will take many more decades to ensure that affected areas are safe.

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Craters Restaurant decorated with cleared UXO in Phonsavan, Laos © Arno Maierbrugger The clearing of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from heavy US bombing during the Vietnam War in Laos is being held back by shortfalls of funds from foreign donours, Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Lao service reported. An official of the labour and social welfare department of Xieng Khouang province in northeastern Laos said that the work of UXO clearing teams in his province has now slowed due to severe cuts in support. “We need a lot of funding,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This year...

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Auto Draft
Craters Restaurant decorated with cleared UXO in Phonsavan, Laos © Arno Maierbrugger

The clearing of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from heavy US bombing during the Vietnam War in Laos is being held back by shortfalls of funds from foreign donours, Radio Free Asia (RFA)’s Lao service reported.

An official of the labour and social welfare department of Xieng Khouang province in northeastern Laos said that the work of UXO clearing teams in his province has now slowed due to severe cuts in support.

“We need a lot of funding,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “This year we received only one million dollars, while usually we get at least two million.”

“We have difficult tasks to perform, like the clearing of forests, but we can’t do this now because we don’t have the people or the money to do the work,” he said.

An official in Khammouane province in central Laos told RFA said that support for clearance efforts in his province was also cut in half this year, leaving the hiring of workers and purchase of badly needed equipment out of reach.

“We now have only 160 workers, but we need at least 60 more to staff our teams,” the official said, adding that “our province usually receives two million dollars a year to support our work, but this year we got only a million.”

In Luang Prabang province in the northern part of the country, shortfalls of funds led recently to a three-month delay in the province’s clearing teams being paid, a source in the province said.

A delay in the signing of a memorandum of understanding between donour country Norway and the central government in Laos, which through its UXO Laos department distributes supporting funds to the provincial teams, had held up the workers’ pay, he said.

UXO Laos, the Lao national UXO clearance agency, is suffering a budget shortfall of $4.5 million for its work this year, according to reports by Vientiane Times, with an official in the department telling RFA recently that at least $1.5 million is now needed for work in southern provinces like Sekong, Salavan, and Attapeu.

Foreign donours have urged Laos to remove unexploded ordnance from up to 10,000 hectares this year, this year, but because of the budget shortfall, the teams are able to clear only 3,500 hectares.

The US committed $30 million last year to UXO clearance in Laos, the final tranche of the $90 million that the US has committed over a three-year period back in 2016. The US Congress may provide an additional $30 million for Laos in the coming years.

The US military in the so-called Secret War in Laos dropped more than two million tonnes of bombs on Laos over a nine-year period up to 1973 while attempting to disrupt the Vietcong supply line known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War.

Up to a third of the bombs dropped did not explode, leaving Laos contaminated with vast quantities of dangerous UXO. Some 20,000 civilians are believed to have been killed or injured by explosives since the end of the war. Around 40 per cent of the victims in the past ten years have been children.

International assistance for bomb clearance in Laos began in earnest only about 20 years ago and experts believe that it will take many more decades to ensure that affected areas are safe.

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