From 1964-1973, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos during U.S. military operations to disrupt North Vietnamese military supply routes. While the full extent and impact of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind has yet to be determined, as many as one-third of all U.S. cluster munitions failed to explode as designed. As a result, much of Laos’ land remains contaminated with more than 80 million small, unexploded cluster sub munitions, known to area residents as “bombies,” which decades later remain a serious safety hazard and a significant impediment to economic development.
This special report provides an overview of U.S. support to address this historical legacy to date, as well as address several commonly asked questions concerning our ongoing effort in Laos. While much work remains ahead, U.S. assistance has facilitated significant progress toward making communities across Laos safe from UXO and restoring safe access to land and infrastructure.
AN ENDURING COMMITMENT
The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of efforts to safely clear UXO in countries recovering from conflict. Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2.9 billion to more than 100 countries around the world to reduce the harmful worldwide effects of at-risk, illicitly proliferated, and indiscriminately used conventional weapons of war.
Since 1995, the United States has invested over $135 million in Laos to address this historical legacy. This includes the first $30 million from a three-year increase of funding announced in 2016. This funding increase, of $90 million over 3 years, has been fully appropriated by Congress. In addition to survey and clearance of UXO; U.S. assistance has also invested in support programs for UXO accident survivors and families; UXO risk education to prevent injuries; and developing Lao capacity to independently mitigate the risk posed by UXO over the long-term.
Laos has seen an 86 percent decrease in UXO related deaths and injuries the past decade, from 302 in 2008 to 41 in 2017. U.S. funded teams contributed to clearing UXO from more than 53,000 hectares across nine provinces in Laos and have helped safely dispose of 1.3 million pieces of UXO across the country.
At the start-up of UXO Lao, the government’s national UXO operator, in 1996, teams were initially trained and equipped through U.S. military training missions. Risk education material was designed and produced with the assistance of U.S. civil affairs advisors. In time, a train the trainer program enabled transfer of training to UXO Lao. Today, we support the Government of Laos’ UXO National Regulatory Authority (NRA) and UXO Lao through a contract mechanism, currently Janus International Group, which also provides capacity-building services to the Lao government.
U.S.-Laos UXO Clearance: Working Together to Save Lives
- UXO related casualties in Laos have steadily declined since the war with an 86 percent decrease over the past decade (from 302 in 2008 to 41 in 2017).
- U.S. funded teams have helped clear more than 53,000 hectares across nine provinces in Laos.
- U.S. funded teams helped destroy 1.3 million pieces of UXO recovered across the country.
- The United States currently supports 63 clearance teams and 60 survey teams working throughout Laos.
- Through the development of a new concept of targeted operations funded by the United States, UXO Lao increased the number of UXO items found per hectare by 300 percent.
- U.S. implementing partners supported the establishment of a national UXO risk education curriculum for primary schools in UXO affected areas allowing 523,619 children in 5,820 primary schools to receive messages about the risks and safe behaviors associated with UXO.
- U.S. funds provided to the War Victims Medical Fund in Laos ensured that 1,005 UXO victims and their families received critical care needed following a UXO accident.
SURVEY: SUPPORTING LAOS’ DEVELOPMENT GOALS
While we know that millions of pieces of UXO were left behind in Laos, we do not know where those UXO are. Though some past survey work was completed, there has never been a comprehensive, evidence-based national survey.
In 2016, the Government of Laos adopted UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number 18: Eliminating UXO as a barrier to national development by 2030. The United States is proud to help Laos meet its 2030 UXO clearance goal and in 2016 committed to provide $45 million for the first national, evidence-based cluster munitions remnant survey (CMRS).
Since 2011, the United States, along with other international donors, has worked with the Government of Laos and international NGOs to support the development of a unique CMRS methodology that takes into account the pattern, or “footprint” of how cluster sub munitions spread. This survey will help the Lao government better understand the extent and location of UXO contamination and strategically plan, prioritize and deploy resources to clear it.
This survey process will allow the Lao Government to confirm contamination locations and maximize efficient deployment of clearance teams to areas with the greatest amount of UXO. The survey data will also be a valuable management tool for the Government of Laos so that they are able to plan and manage the UXO problem in the longer term.
The survey will be completed in 6 priority provinces – Xieng Khouang, Savannakhet, Attapeu, Champasak, Saravane, and Sekong by international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Mines Advisory Group, the HALO Trust, and Norwegian People’s Aid. This investment in CMRS is in addition to $45 million in U.S. assistance provided for clearance and other assistance over the same period and currently the United States funds approximately 64 percent of the staff directly employed in the UXO sector in Laos.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT U.S.-LAOS UXO CLEARANCE EFFORTS
Q: Is any U.S. Government money given directly to the Lao government?
A: The United States directs all funding for these efforts to international NGOs and contractors chosen through a stringent procurement process managed by the Department of State. However, we support the Government of Laos’ UXO National Regulatory Authority (NRA) and national clearance operator, UXO Lao, through a contract mechanism, currently Janus International Group, which also provides capacity-building services to the Lao government.
Q: How much money does the Government of Laos provide in support of efforts to address UXO?
A: Lao PDR is a least developed country with a limited government budget. Government financial support to the UXO sector has been mainly in kind through the contribution of office facilities and supporting staff.
Q: Why does Laos need a UXO survey, when surveys have been done before?
A: While we know that millions of UXO were dropped in Laos, we do not know where those UXO are. Though some past survey work was completed, there has never been a comprehensive national survey. Conducting an evidence-based survey allows us to better understand the full extent and location of the remaining UXO contamination in Laos. This ensures that we don’t waste valuable time or taxpayer dollars on clearing areas with little to no UXO contamination and channels limited resources to the most contaminated and economically productive areas.
Using the new CMRS methodology, this survey process will allow us to confirm contamination locations and maximize efficient deployment of clearance teams to areas with the greatest amount of UXO. The survey data will also be a valuable management tool for the Government of Laos so that they are able to plan and manage the UXO problem in the longer term.
Q: Why hasn’t a comprehensive national survey happened before now?
A: Previously there was no methodology designed to survey cluster munitions, the number one UXO item found in Laos. Since 2011, the United States, along with other international donors, has worked with the Government of Laos and international NGOs to support the development of the Cluster Munition Remnant Survey (CMRS) methodology.
CMRS is specifically designed to map cluster munition contamination and is being used by governments across the Southeast Asia region including Vietnam and Cambodia. The U.S. Department of State sponsored a workshop in Washington D.C. in June 2017 designed to increase understanding of CMRS and share lessons learned from CMRS implementation.
Q: Why are you only focusing on cluster munitions?
A: The clearance teams clear all items of UXO found during clearance operations, not just cluster munitions. However, cluster munitions are the most dangerous type of UXO in Laos and are responsible for the majority of UXO-related injuries.
Survey teams use individual cluster submunitions as evidence points to begin survey work because cluster munitions fell in a pattern, better known as a footprint. With an accepted dud or failure rate of 30 percent, if one munition is found then more can be anticipated and located. Cluster munition evidence gives our teams a starting point to map the footprint so that it can be recorded on a national database and prioritized for clearance. Our NGO partners have also found that where you find a cluster munition footprint, you are also likely to find other types of UXO.
Q: When will the survey be completed?
A: With the funding currently available, the survey could be complete in Xieng Khouang, Savannakhet, Attapeu, Champasak, Saravane, and Sekong provinces by the end of 2022. However, achieving that goal depends in large part on the success of our partnership with the Government of Laos. Specifically, our NGO implementing partners depend on the Lao government to grant them access to data and access to land through formal memoranda of understanding. We applaud the Lao government on their recent approval of national survey procedures, which will ensure that all operators work in accordance with Lao laws and regulations.
Q: Why isn’t more money going to clearance?
A: Significant funding from the United States is going to clearance and we’re encouraging other international donors to join us in this effort. Currently, the United States supports 63 clearance teams and 60 survey teams working throughout Laos. As the survey draws to completion we anticipate a larger proportion of U.S. funding (and any new funding) going to clearance activities.
Q: What else does the United States UXO money fund?
A: In addition to the survey, the United States continues to comprehensively support the UXO sector in Laos. Funding supports UXO clearance, risk education, survivor’s assistance, and capacity building. Planned U.S. contributions from 2016-2018 total $90 million. Projects supported by these funds are awarded through grants and contracts to international NGOs and contractors chosen through a stringent procurement process managed by the Department of State.
Q: Who are the implementing partners?
A: Mines Advisory Group, HALO Trust, Norwegian People’s Aid, World Education, Health Leadership International, Spirit of Soccer, the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, and Janus Global Operations all implement UXO-related programs in Laos.
Q: With all U.S. assistance flowing through international NGOs and contractors, is any of this funding benefitting the Lao people?
A: Beyond the long-term benefits of UXO removal resulting in increased safety and greater economic opportunity for affected Lao communities, the vast majority of people employed by our NGO and contractor implementers are local Lao citizens. Indeed, our NGO partners collectively employ 907 Lao citizens to support UXO survey and clearance operations. This is in addition to the 683 Lao employed by UXO Lao with U.S. funding.
Q: How can I give money to support?
A: We encourage other donors to join us in supporting this work. With the resources available at this time, we have a unique opportunity to see significant progress. Additional resources from current donors and the addition of new donors to the sector will only increase the accomplishments we can achieve. There are a variety of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Laos who accept private donations. Check out the Department of State’s yearly conventional weapons destruction report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, to learn more about U.S. NGO partners working in Laos.
For further information, please contact the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs at PM-CPA@state.gov.