Cluster Bomb Fact Sheet

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Indiscriminate Weapons

A recovered cluster bomb. Photo: Boon Vong

  • Cluster bombs are designed as anti-personnel, anti-armor weapons, but the primary victims have been innocent civilians. More than 98% of known cluster bomb victims are civilians and 40% are children, who are drawn to the small, toy-like metal objects.
  • Cluster bomb casings release hundreds of bomblets—the size of a soup can or orange—over wide areas, frequently missing intended military targets and killing nearby civilians.
  • Commonly used cluster bombs are designed to explode into hundreds of pieces of razor-sharp shrapnel that rip through bodies. They are deadlier than land mines.
  • Anywhere from 2% to 20% of modern cluster munitions do not detonate upon impact (this rate rises to 30% for older bombs used in the second Indochina War), leaving a deadly hazard for years to come.

The Legacy of Cluster Bombs in Laos

  • From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of ordnance over Laos in 580,000 bombing missions, the equivalent of one planeload every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years.  At least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped as part of the bombing campaign; approximately 80 million failed to detonate.
  • Data from a survey completed in Laos in 2009 indicate that UXO, including cluster bombs, have killed or maimed as many as 50,000 civilians in Laos since 1964 (and 20,000 since 1973, after the war ended). Over the past two years there have been over one hundred new casualties each year. About 60% of accidents result in death, and 40% of the victims are children. Boys are particularly at risk.
  • Laos has suffered more than half of the confirmed cluster munitions casualties in the world.
  • Over the past four decades, less than 1% of the bomblets that failed to detonate have been cleared. All 17 provinces in Laos, and 41 of 46 of the poorest districts in Laos, are burdened with unexploded ordnance (UXO) contamination.

Consider the Following:

  • At least one third of Laos is contaminated with UXO based on surveys and U.S. military strike data. Given the sheer magnitude of the problem, it is infeasible to clear all of the land. The Lao government is targeting populated areas and agricultural lands for clearance. Even with substantial increases in funding, the effort will take at least 15 years and most likely much longer.
  • For years, the U.S. averaged an annual contribution of $2.0-2.5 million for UXO clearance, a sum that stands in stark contrast to the $13.3 million a day (in 2013 dollars), or $44 billion in total that the U.S. spent bombing Laos over a 9 year period.

Hopeful Steps

  • The Convention on Cluster Munitions – prohibits the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions. The international agreement, signed by 111 nations and ratified by 70 to date, entered into force on August 1st, 2010.  The U.S. has not signed the treaty. The first meeting of the State Parties to the Convention took place on November 9-12, 2010, in Vientiane, Lao PDR, and the second meeting took place in Beirut, Lebanon, on September 12-18, 2011.
  • Former U.S. ambassadors to Laos sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on July 8, 2011, calling for an increase in funding to the UXO sector in Laos and encouraging her to visit Laos in the course of a future trip to Southeast Asia. The Ambassadors had already written to Secretary Clinton one year beforehand, on July 15, 2010, asking for a dramatic increase of funding for UXO removal in Laos.
  • House/Senate Bill: The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act of 2011 (S 558, HR 996) awaits passage in Congress. This bill would restrict the production and use of cluster munitions by the U.S.  A permanent ban on cluster bomb exports from the U.S. was passed in the Senate in March 2009.
  • A House Appropriations Subcommittee held the first ever hearing on the issue of UXO in Laos in April 2010, helping to educate members of Congress on the issue and increase support for additional funding for UXO clearance in Laos.
  • 2012 U.S. Budget: In the 2012 appropriations report, Congress set as a priority “the clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in areas where such ordnance was caused by the United States,” and directed that “$9,000,000 be made available for UXO clearance in Laos.” This represents the highest dollar amount ever allocated by the U.S. to clearing UXO in Laos.

What Can You Do?

  • Urge your Congressional representative to ensure that at least $10 million is allocated for UXO clearance in Laos for FY2014 with sustained funding over the next ten years. $10 million would provide continuity to organizations providing bomb clearance, survivor assistance, and risk education programs in Laos, and sustained funding would allow them to bring already effective programs up to scale.
  • Encourage your Congressional representative and the U.S. State Department to attend future meetings of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Encourage the U.S. to sign the treaty to ban cluster munitions.