Unprecedented level of contamination
HI launched its weapons clearance operations on 21st January 2019 in Houameung district, Houaphan province, eastern Laos. Bombed during the Vietnam War, the country is heavily contaminated by anti-personnel mines and cluster bombs. These explosive remnants of war pose a constant threat to local lives. To protect them, HI has launched a major clearance operation in the region.
HI’s 14 weapons clearance experts start work at 7:30am and return home at 4:30pm. They are divided into three teams: survey, mobile and weapons clearance. Each team is involved at a different stage of the process, from identifying explosive devices to destroying them. Their task is made more difficult by the severe cold. They need to take extra care because of the steep mountainous terrain. It takes hours to trim the wild vegetation. HI’s mine clearance experts work 20 days in a row and then rest for a week.
The teams do vital work. As the economy is based on agriculture, villagers cannot simply abandon contaminated farmland. They must farm it at risk to their lives. They are always in danger and many are killed or maimed. Since the start of the operation, HI’s teams have cleared 11,625 square metres of land. There are explosive remnants everywhere. In Houaxieng, a village of 423 inhabitants, the team found 42 unexploded live ordnance.
Building a safer future
These remnants are highly explosive and cannot be handled or moved. They need to be destroyed on-site, one by one. It’s slow work. Local people also need to be educated about the risks. To reduce the number of casualties, HI runs a campaign to raise their awareness and provide them with information.