More than 50 years after the first U.S. bombings during the war in Vietnam, Laos remains the country most heavily contaminated by cluster munitions on the planet. This has had dramatic consequences: since 1964, more than 50,000 victims have been killed by these devices.
© Alexandre Gelebart/20 Minutes/HI
HI is working to reduce the threat of cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war in Laos. Its teams of mine clearance experts work alongside villagers affected by the presence of these weapons. They clear the land, destroy the devices and raise local people’s awareness of the dangers they represent. These operations to clear landmines and other explosive devices are deployed in four of the worst affected districts in Savannakhet province. Since 2006, HI's teams have cleared over 3,500,000m² of land and destroyed some 24,000 explosive remnants of war in Laos.
At the same time, the organisation is running development projects aimed at reducing the risk of disability and improving the social inclusion of people with disabilities. The focus is on preventing disability in children under 5 years old. Specialists provide training to nurses in maternal, newborn and child health and are integrating these disciplines into the country’s health system. As part of the postnatal and neonatal preventive care provision, prospective parents are given awareness-raising sessions on factors that can put a pregnancy at risk, causing an unborn child to develop a disability. Both parents and communities are given a better understanding of disability.
In addition, HI is committed to preventing and reducing road accidents (”road safety” project), which are also responsible for many disabilities. In particular, the organisation is running an awareness campaign for the general public and schoolchildren, highlighting the risks associated with traffic, helmet wearing, drink driving, the use of mobile phones and speeding.
HI also focuses on access to employment or entrepreneurship for people with disabilities by providing personalised support and training on how to set up a project or start their own business. Furthermore, the organisation is involved in training disabled people’s organisations to campaign for their rights.
Finally, HI works to improve the care provided to people requiring rehabilitation. The organisation collaborates with public bodies in developing the country’s rehabilitation sector and provides training for professionals working in this field.
50 years of living with the daily threat of unexploded cluster munitions is still hindering the development of Laos, which is considered to be one of the poorest countries in the world.
The People’s Democratic Republic of Laos has the highest level of contamination from explosive remnants of war of any country on the planet. Out of the 17 provinces in Laos, 15 are contaminated by some 80 million unexploded devices, for the most part cluster munitions dropped 50 years ago by the United States during the Vietnam War. They still strike terror into the hearts of the country’s citizens, killing and maiming indiscriminately. Since 1964, more than 50,000 people have been killed or injured by an accident caused by explosive remnants of war, almost half of them in peace time. Despite a fall in the number of victims over the past five years, there are still 40 to 50 unfortunate new casualties every year. What makes the situation all the more unacceptable is the fact that children are the main victims of these weapons.
Laos is one of the world’s poorest countries. It faces significant challenges, in particular the need to reduce the country’s high level of malnutrition. Access to health facilities in rural areas remain very limited and health workers lack both skills and training.