For Immediate Release
Contact: Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Visit Laos
Opportunity to Finally Address Problem of Leftover U.S. Bombs from Vietnam Era
January 24, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting Laos this week, only the third Secretary in history to do so, following John Foster Dulles (‘55) and Hillary Clinton (’12). While Secretary Kerry’s agenda will focus on Laos’ chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) this year, Legacies of War calls on the Secretary to use this opportunity to commit the U.S. to finally addressing the legacy of unexploded bombs in Laos. As a new partnership between the U.S. and Laos begins, it is time to solve this lingering Vietnam War-era problem, once and for all.
“The visit to Laos by Secretary Kerry, himself a veteran of the war in Vietnam, provides a unique opportunity to address the long-term impact of war in Southeast Asia,” said Channapha Khamvongsa, executive director of Legacies of War. “As Secretary Kerry meets with Lao officials in the capital city of Vientiane, I hope he keeps in mind that out in the surrounding rural areas, a child is walking to school, a mother is clearing the farmland, a father is lighting a cooking stove – all while risking life and limb due to the unexploded bombs still buried around them. Secretary Kerry can help create a new, lasting legacy of peace out of the wreckage of war, which has been left unresolved for far too long.”
While then Lt. Kerry was serving in Vietnam, a secret U.S. bombing campaign was taking place next door in Laos. The U.S. flew 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes, around the clock, for nine years. The U.S. dropped more than 270 million cluster munitions, many the size of a tennis ball. With a failure rate of 25-30%, tens of millions of these bombs failed to explode. They still litter the fields, gardens and village paths of Laos today. Since the bombing ended, there have been more than 20,000 casualties due to unexploded bombs in Laos.
Thanks to the sustained efforts of concerned Lao and broader American community, and strong support from U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy and other members of congress, U.S. support for bomb removal and victim assistance in Laos has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2017, that amount will reach an unprecedented $19.5 million. However, less than one percent of the estimated 80 million leftover bombs in Laos have been cleared. And more than 12,000 survivors in Laos will be in need of medical and rehabilitation services for the rest of their lives.
Legacies of War was founded in 2004 to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing of Laos and advocate for greater U.S. funding to address its legacy. For interviews or additional information please contact Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director, 703-868-0030, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) in Laos: Background and Recommendation
$250 million in U.S. funding necessary to support the UXO sector in Laos
Most Heavily Bombed Country in History
Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. flew 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes, round the clock for nine years (1964-1973). Cluster bomblets make up roughly half of the UXO found and destroyed by clearance teams in Laos today. This UXO, in addition to being a threat to the life and well-being of villagers, is also an impediment to development in Laos, greatly increasing the cost of construction projects and agricultural expansion in the affected areas.
UXO by the Numbers
Bombing tonnage: 2.2 million tons
Number of cluster bomblets: 270 million bomblets or sub-munitions
Cluster bomblet failure rate: 25%-30% or up to 81 million bomblets, still lethal Percent of villages contaminated by UXO: 25%, or more than 2,800
Casualties since the war ended: 20,000
Annual Casualties from UXO: 2008: 300; 2014: 48
Victims of UXO needing continued assistance: 12,000
Employees in the UXO sector: 1,000+
U.S. Support for UXO Sector
Since 1993, the U.S. has provided more than $85 million in support for the UXO sector in Laos, including clearance activities and victim assistance. In fiscal year 2014, the U.S. contributed more than $13 million to the UXO sector in Laos. For fiscal year 2017, the U.S. has earmarked $19.5 million in such support. The U.S. has worked with the Lao government and NGO operators to implement evidence-based survey methods, which show great promise in identifying priority areas for UXO clearance.
U.S. funding, through the Department of State, goes directly to the following organizations:
- Catholic Relief Services
- Health Leadership International
- Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
- Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA)
- Spirit of Soccer
- Sterling Global
- World Education