Leftover Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)

A U.S. 1000-pound bomb in the road, near Moung Taoy, Salavan. A bomb disposal team from UXO Lao had spent twenty days excavating the bomb in preparation to defuse it. Photo: Marcus Q. Rhinelander

Unexploded Ordnance

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) are explosive weapons (bombs, bullets, shells, grenades, land mines, naval mines, etc.) that did not explode when they were employed and still pose a risk of detonation, potentially many decades after they were used or discarded. About one third of Laos remains contaminated with UXO left behind from the Vietnam War, including about 80 million cluster munitions.

Cluster munitions

Cluster munitions are the small explosive devices released from cluster bombs. Although they are designed to explode on impact, cluster munitions have a significant failure rate (estimated at 30% in Laos during the Vietnam War). They are usually the size of an orange or soup can and can stay buried in the ground indefinitely. As a result, cluster munitions kill more civilians than enemy soldiers and prevent war torn countries from redeveloping bombed land.

Cluster munitions are also known as cluster bomblets, or, among many Laotians, as “bombies.”

See our page on cluster bombs »

Quick Facts

  • At least 20,000 people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance in Laos since the Vietnam War-era bombings ended.
  • About one third of the land in Laos is contaminated with unexploded ordnance.
  • Many cluster bomblets became buried in the earth – waiting for an unsuspecting farmer to place a shovel in the earth or the monsoon rains to uncover them.
  • Many farmers in Laos know their land is contaminated but can’t afford another plot. They simply have no choice but to cultivate their land.
  • The most common injuries victims sustain from a UXO explosion include loss of a limb, blindness, hearing loss, shrapnel wounds, and internal shock wave injuries.
  • Over the past four decades, fewer than 1 million of the estimated 80 million cluster munitions that failed to detonate have been cleared.

To see how a cluster bomb works and how it is detected and detonated, view the Multimedia Interactive Center (MIC).