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Handicap International to expand demining operations in Laos

Explosive weapons
Laos

Handicap International is expanding its mine clearance activities in Laos to a fourth district.

Forty years after the end of the Vietnam war, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war in Laos still claim an average of one victim per week. Handicap International has worked in the country since 1983 and is currently clearing mines in three districts, Nong, Sepone and Vilabuly, in the Savannakhet province in the east of Laos. In 2015 Phine will become the fourth district to benefit from demining.

 

Laos: It took three hours to diffuse this bomb, which was found near a village.

Laos: It took three hours to diffuse this bomb, which was found near a village. | © Tim Dirven - Panos / Handicap International

The organisation is working to clear a total of 121 villages of mines and our teams act quickly whenever an explosive remnant of war is found. Two other demining operators are responsible for the remaining 109 villages.

10,000 villagers will benefit not only from the clearance activities, but also from risk education sessions where children make up 50% of participants.

Laos is the most densely mined country in the world. The statistics are chilling; in the first nine months of 2014, Handicap International destroyed almost 1,500 bombs.

The organisation relies on 10 intervention teams, each made up of 10 people. The teams include six deminers. 3 teams carry out technical surveys using detectors, whilst another six teams carry out the mine clearance operations (minesweeping with metal detectors). The last team deals with emergency destructions. Handicap International also identifies new areas where clearance is needed. These are areas identified in surveys and through discussions with villagers, local authorities and other organisations.

These sites are then ranked in order of priority, based on two main criteria: "Firstly, the presence of explosive devices: we work on the basis that where one cluster munition has been identified, there must be others," explains Mélanie, Handicap International Head of Mission in Laos. "Secondly, the development projects planned for the area: if the village wants to build a school, we need to survey both the land earmarked for the project and adjacent areas which may also need to be cleared."

Painstaking work

Each zone is revisited six months after the mine clearance operation to check that the community has reclaimed the area and is using the land for its intended purpose. Assessments carried out between 2012 and 2014 show that this does happen in 94% of cases.

"It is painstaking work," stresses Mélanie. "We have to work slowly and meticulously. The land we work on is often situated in rural locations, difficult to access, in relatively dense forests."

Releasing land back to communities can have a transformative impact on people’s lives. This is why Handicap International demining teams respond to requests for clearance from authorities building schools, health centres, roads etc. The association also works with other development organisations such as German Agro Action (GAA) an organisation implementing projects to extend paddy fields and create fish ponds and so may need our help to clear an area of land.

We are also supporting families on low incomes, or families with members who are mine victims or people with disabilities who want to develop an agricultural project - such as setting up a vegetable garden or paddy field - to clear the land where they want to implement these activities.

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