On March 21, 2017, a ten year old girl in Laos brought home a bomblet she picked up while walking to school. When it exploded, it killed one and injured an additional 12.
Luckily, this type of incident is becoming less frequent in Laos thanks in large part to women and women’s organizations.
The casualty rate of these unexploded ordinances (UXOs) in Laos has dropped from 300 in 2010 to 50 in the last two years according to Legacies of War, an advocacy organization founded by Lao-American activist Channapha Khamvongsa. Her organization’s efforts at lobbying the American government for spending on clearance and victim assistance in Laos came to fruition with the announcement of $90M over three years by President Obama in 2016. Even this amount is limiting, though. Only a tiny fraction of the UXOs have been cleared in the work of the past two decades.
Women like Ms. Khamvongsa are key actors in the efforts on the ground to clear UXOs. UCT6 is an all women UXO clearance team, supported by the UK based Mines Advisory Group. The team creates space for women to work together, in a traditionally male role outside the home. Their policy is to train the poorest members of the community as technicians. These women are earning salaries and performing an important role in their communities. They are role models for young women and girls in Laos.
An estimated 80 million bomblets are still spread across almost half of Laos from U.S. bombings during the Vietnar War 40 years ago. It remains the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. However, there is a widespread lack of awareness in North America of the Laos bombings and the existence of UXOs.
America’s Secret War in Laos Uncovered, ABC News, 31 October 2016.
Women clearing Laos of cluster-bombs, Financial Times, 5 April 2013.
Cluster Munition Monitor 2016 Ban Policy Overview, Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, ND.
Use the Cluster Munitions Coalition resources to write to your government or start your own campaign.