UXO clearance remains too inefficient

Published on May 30, 2013

Laos is spending significant amounts of money to clear unexploded ordnance (UXO), but the operations are not highly effective, the National Regulatory Authority (NRA) has reported.

“We need 100,000 hectares to be cleared in five years from 2010 to 2015, but we will only get 30,000. What’s going on?” Minister to the Government Office and President of the NRA, Mr Bounheuang Douangphachanh said yesterday at the annual meeting, held in Vientiane.

There are 16 organisations working on UXO clearance in Laos, including the Lao National UXO Programme, which has 3,400 workers.

“We accept that clearance work is not being done well because we can only complete 6,000 hectares per year,” NRA Director Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun pointed out.

Last year, Laos received US$30 million from international donors to remove UXO, help victims and engage in education activities. The biggest funders have been the US, Australia, the EU and Japan.

In reality, more than 6,000 hectares per year should be cleared with US$30 million, Mr Phoukhieo said. Another reason that problems have occurred is because most donors are providing money for NGOs to help clear bombs, instead of providing it directly to the national programme.

On the other hand, some of the money from the funders is used to pay government UXO workers. Each receives a salary from US$180 to US$400 per month. Around 60 percent is spent directly in the field, 30 percent for administration work and 10 percent in other areas.

Currently, over 200,000 hectares of land is contaminated in the 46 poorest districts of the country, but only one percent has been cleared there.

The overall funding from the donors has not increased since 2010 either although last year, the US decided to raise funding to US$9 million per year, but only US$5 million has been received so far.

Victim support programmes have been working quite well, however. In 2012, the number of accidents related to UXO stood at 56, resulting in 15 deaths and the rest suffering limb damage. In the previous year, 300 people were reported to have been victims of UXO.

This year, the NRA will employ the skills of the army’s engineering department to help clear mines and bombs.

“We want to use dogs in the detection of UXO, but the price to keep them is very expensive,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Alounkeo Kittikhoun said.

Last year, Japan Mine Action Service began a pilot project using a specialised Japanese-made Komatsu UXO clearance vehicle in Xieng Khuang province, but unfortunately the trial was unsuccessful as the vehicle was unable to function effectively in mountainous areas.

Source: Vientiane Times
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
May 30, 2013