Friday, 3 February 2012


It’s about nine o’clock in the morning. Villagers searching for scrap metal on a valley floor deep in the jungle of Laos hear a huge explosion. The sound reverberates around the towering mountains. Someone has been unlucky today.

Blinded by the blast in the jungle, 25-year-old Leng crawled out of the undergrowth to the roadside. He had managed to find his way up the mountainside through five kilometres of jungle. His two friends did not make it. Fifteen-year-old Ten and 30-year-old Talay were killed in the explosion. They were trying to chisel out the tail fuse on a 250 lb bomb. Talay had quite a reputation as an expert at this. Villagers said he had successfully done this dozens of times. He only needed to do four more and he would have enough money to pay for his wedding planned for the following month.

As the United States of America stepped up its efforts to halt the spread of communism across Indochina, Laos became caught up in a secret war that remains largely ignored in world history.

The US Air Force General Curtis LeMay reportedly said America would bomb the Vietnamese and Laotian communists “back to the stone-age” and so the might of the US Air-force, unleashed a phenomenal and sustained bombardment on that Laos. You can see some of that in the video above; can you imagine what it must have been like to have lived in one of those huts you can see?

Over two million tonnes of ordinance were dropped over the next nine years: more bombs than were dropped on Europe by both sides during the Second World War; an amount equal to ten tonnes per kilometre; or, one plane load of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours per day, for nine years, please read that again, an amount equal to ten tonnes per kilometre; or, one plane load of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours per day, for nine years.

Lao PDR is the most bombed country in the world per capita. More than two million tons of ordnance was dropped on the country during the Second Indochina War, but up to 30 per cent of some types of ordnance did not detonate.

But with the increased price of steel the impoverished inhabitants of Laos have become reliant on the scrap metal trade, and work to locate and defuse unexploded ordinance. Collecting scrap metal is a major cause of unexploded ordinance accidents; people risk their lives using primitive detectors to hunt for scrap.

Between 1999 and 2008, there were 2,184 casualties (including 834 deaths) from UXO incidents and more than 50,000 people have been killed or injured as a result of unexploded ordinance accidents since 1964. UXO contamination also remains a key cause of poverty and is one of the prime factors limiting the country's long-term development, preventing people from using land and denying access to basic services.

The Mine Advisory Group works to defuse the ordinance, and from April 2007 to May 2011, MAG cleared 23,778,512m2 of suspect land in Lao PDR, destroying 145,000 items of UXO. As a result, 330,000 beneficiaries gained more safe land for farming, clean drinking water, latrines, and irrigation for rice cropping, safe school compounds and tertiary roads. MAG has worked in more than 40 countries since 1989 and currently has operations in Angola, Burundi, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Iraq, Lao P.D.R., Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Vietnam. Their website is HERE.