2004 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 25 Jul 2004 00:05:53 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: LAO UXO Victims
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Press Release
United Nations Development Programme Lao PDR
Sharp rise in UXO deaths for 2004
July 8, 2004

Vientiane, Laos: The number of people dying as a result of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the Indochina War has risen sharply this year according to the country's largest bomb disposal agency, UXO Lao.

According to UXO Lao, there were 51 accidents with leftover bombs nationwide, with 74 injuries and 39 deaths between January and May 2004, as compared to just 15 accidents, 19 injuries and 15 deaths for the same period last year.

Bomb disposal officers in the field blame the rise in the number of accidents on the skyrocketing scrap metal trade, a dangerous consequence of the rising cost of scrap worldwide, and point to the increasing numbers of private bomb disposers using cheap metal detectors to hunt for war metal.

"We can guess from anecdotal information that the growing scrap trade, facilitated by the ubiquitous presence of cheap and effective Vietnamese metal detectors, often rented out by scrap merchants, is a significant driver of this change," said Justin Shone, manager of the UN Development Programme's UXO Trust Fund, which pays for much of the official bomb disposal in Laos.

In recent years, increasing population pressure has also fuelled accident rates from UXO, as more people are forced to farm land that is contaminated by unexploded bombs and mines, but according to UNDP, the underlying cause of most UXO accidents in Laos is poverty. Laos is one of the poorest countries in Asia, so despite only receiving a few cents a kilo from war metal scrap, many people are prepared to risk the potentially tragic results of scavenging war scrap.

"Poverty is not only made worse by UXO because people don't have access to land, but their desperate situation leads them to take massive risks with leftover bombs. When people are poor enough, they will do anything, including dangerous home defusing to earn just a few cents," says Finn Reske-Nielsen, head of the UNDP in Laos.

In provinces like Xieng Khouang, one of the most heavily bombed parts of Laos, and the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the Indochina War more than 30 years ago, the problem has been compounded recently because of new scrap metal yards, which encourage poor villages to bring what they can from the war ravaged countryside.

"Now we will see even more people dying because the demand for the metal will increase. These people are desperately poor, most live on less than a dollar a day. When they see a bomb lying in the ground they see dollar signs. They take tremendous risks to salvage both the explosives and the metal in the bombs. Handling the sometimes volatile and deadly ordnance is worth the risk," said a local de-miner.

But scrap metal dealers defend their business. "We normally don't accept a bomb if it doesn't look like it has been defused," says Vietnamese born Khangkhet, owner of a scrap yard in a disheveled looking village in the province. But a cursory look around his operation reveals dozens of live bombs, waiting to be thrown into the smelting furnace. His business pays villagers around 50 kip, or one fifth of one cent for a kilo of the used war trash.

Over 10,000 people are estimated to have died from left over UXO in Laos since the end of hostilities in 1975.

The rise in death rates due to the scrap trade is something of a regional issue. A study into deliberate handling of UXO in Cambodia has revealed that accident rates there too have risen rapidly this year.

Report reveals death rates under reported

Meanwhile, a report funded by UNDP and implemented by the NGO Handicap International has revealed that the number of victims of UXO accidents in Laos may be more than twice what is reported.

The study, which looked at accident reporting across the country, says it found evidence that the number of UXO accidents, injuries and deaths, particularly if they are not treated by the government health system, are significantly under-reported in some provinces and not reported at all in other provinces. Official figures show that there have been over 10,000 UXO related incidents in Lao PDR since 1973, but a truer figure may be more than double this number. According to the report, some provinces are reporting less than 10 percent of the deaths due to unexploded bombs that actually occur.

"There is a great deal of skepticism in Laos regarding statistics on UXO casualties. Virtually all organisations interviewed, including UXO Lao, believe that UXO casualties are significantly under-reported," it says.

The report goes on to recommend a strategy to accurately record the number of UXO deaths in all areas of the country in which clearance agencies are operating. The cost of such a system was estimated to be US $210,000 in the first year, it said.

Notes for editors: UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.

For the original press release, see

Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

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