Good afternoon. As many of you know, Laos is one of the most heavily bombed countries per capita in the world. Submunitions from the Indochina Wars of the 1960s and 70s have left a majority of Laos’s provinces contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), landmines, and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Most of this contamination is of U.S. origin.
Population growth and development increase the need to put contaminated land into productive use, leading to greater risk of death and injury. However, clearing explosive hazards also sets the stage for reconstruction and economic development, which in turn promotes peace and security. The impact of these efforts can be seen at the ground level and helps communities thrive by allowing otherwise dangerous areas to be cleared and returned to the community.
To address these explosive hazards, the United States has invested more than $200 million between 1993 and 2018 for weapons destruction programs undertaken by our implementing partners. And our support to Laos continues at sustained historic levels.
PM/WRA currently supports six programs operating in Laos. HALO, MAG, NPA, and Tetratech all concentrate on survey and clearance operations. World Education focuses on UXO risk education and victim assistance while Spirit of Soccer mainly concentrates on UXO risk education.
Since 2008, UXO casualty rates have decreased in Laos. This is inpart due to a greater awareness of the vast contamination throughout the country and subsequent increase in foreign aid.
During my last trip to Laos, I had the privilege of seeing this work in action. This included capacity building with the National Regulatory Authority and UXO Lao as well as the survey and clearance of UXO by NGOs in multiple villages and communities. It is difficult but important work that deserves our commitment.
Thanks to strong Congressional support in FY19, Laos continues to receive substantial financial support from the United States to aid in the clearance of UXO, landmines, and ERW.