November 5, 2009 • Washington, D.C. | Download Report
Legacies of War (legaciesofwar.org) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocate for the clearance of unexploded bombs, to provide space for healing the wounds of war, and to create greater hope for a future of peace.
Cover Images (left to right, top to bottom):
- School children from Lathsene Village in Xieng Khouang Province, Laos, home of a pre-school built through the generous donations of Legacies of War supporters.
- Historic illustrations collected by Fred Branfman in Laos during the war and the inspiration for the Legacies of War National Traveling Exhibition.
- Charles Stonecipher, U.S. Dept of State, and Madame Kanika Phommachanh, Lao PDR Mission to the UN, speak after their presentations.
- Bomb casings are a common sight throughout villages in Laos.
- Lao boy holding clay model of cluster bomb in “Bombies” documentary by Jack Silberman.
- Historic illustrations collected from villagers in Xieng Khouang Province who survived the bombings.
- Briefing participants Jackie Chagnon, Titus Peachey, and Bob Eaton.
- Tae, Lao cluster bomb survivor and International Cluster Bomb Ban Advocate.
- Signs warning villagers of the dangers of cluster bombs are a common sight in Laos today.
- Children make up two-thirds of those injured or killed by cluster bombs in Laos.
- Briefing participants from the governments of thet Lao PDR and the U.S., NGOs and community members.
- An estimated 78 million cluster bombs still litter one-third of Laos.
- Lao children born four decades after the end of the bombing still live with the remnants of the war.
- The Plain of Jars, home to one of the most heavily bombed areas in Laos.
- Map based on declassified U.S. Air Force data regarding bombing in Laos.
IntroductionThe impetus for this historic convening was our desire to bring together the many individuals, organizations and governments we have met over the last five years working on the issue of unexploded ordnance in Laos. The 15th anniversary of Laos’ formal demining program was a timely occasion to host the first comprehensive briefing and discussion in the U.S. on cluster bomb removal and assistance in Laos. We would like to thank the representatives of the governments of the Lao PDR and the United States for participating in this historic gathering. Their participation demonstrated their deep commitment to resolving this problem. We are especially appreciative of the participation of the National Regulatory Authority, whose staff joined us via video-feed from Vientiane. We are also grateful to participants from the NGO sector, who helped us to understand the challenges and opportunities for improving the UXO sector in Laos. The enclosed report seeks to provide an overview of the current state of UXO clearance, victim assistance and risk education in Laos, as well as varying perspectives on the gaps in the current system. Also included are innovative solutions to addressing this four-decade-old problem. It is our hope that there will be many more gatherings in the future to build upon the open dialogue among governments, NGOs and other parties intent on improving the UXO sector in Laos. I would like to thank our supporters, especially our remarkable board members, staff and volunteers, who over the past five years have provided the resources, expertise and counsel necessary to achieve our goals. This historic convening marked the culmination of these efforts. With much gratitude, Channapha Khamvongsa Executive Director
- A Dark History: Laos is the most heavily bombed country in history. Vietnam War-era bombings left nearly half of the country contaminated with vast quantities of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Today, cluster bombs litter forests, rice fields, villages, school grounds, roads, and other populated areas. Tens of thousands of people have been killed or injured by UXO since the bombing ceased; each year there continue to be more than 300 new casualties, most of whom are children. Nearly 40 years on, only a fraction of these munitions have been destroyed.
- An Historic Opportunity: On November 5, 2009, Legacies of War convened a meeting to focus on the status of cluster bomb clearance, victim assistance and risk education in Laos today. Given growing international attention to the issue of cluster bombs and improved U.S.-Laos relations, this meeting was an historic opportunity to bring together representatives from governments and the non-profit sector to finally address the long- term problem of UXO in Laos. Participants discussed opportunities for raising awareness, clearing UXO and supporting victims in the country. Speakers from Laos and the U.S. shared their perspectives on the possibilities for greater collaboration between the public and private sectors to address this enduring problem.
- Global Role of Laos: The government of Laos is committed to eliminating the terrible human and economic costs of UXO contamination. Toward this goal, Laos was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). Laos is set to host the First Meeting of the State Parties to the CCM sometime in 2010 once 30 countries have ratified the treaty.
- UXO Effect on Development in Laos: The United Nations has designated Laos as one of the Least Developed Countries in the world. Progress on UXO issues in Laos is essential for making Laos a safe place to live and lifting the economy out of poverty in accordance with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
- Effective UXO Sector in Laos: The UXO clearance sector in Laos has evolved into a highly efficient and effective sector, featuring effective government oversight and increasing capacity among government agencies, NGOs, and commercial operators working in the country. A representative of the U.S. State Department’s Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA) program called Laos the “gold standard” in the UXO clearance sector.
- Clear Plan for Future: The National Regulatory Authority (NRA), the agency within the government of Laos responsible for UXO issues, has outlined its UXO clearance goals in Safe Path Forward Strategic Plan (2010-2020). However, successful implementation of this plan will require substantial additional funding. The NRA currently receives about $14 million a year, but estimates it will need around $24 million a year to meet its ten-year goals.
- Victim Assistance Needs: At present, victim assistance programs in Laos receive only half the necessary funding needed to adequately help victims and their families. Funding through NGOs and UNICEF is $2.5 million annually, which pays for data collection, medical care, physical and psychosocial rehabilitation, economic rehabilitation and vocational training, and advocacy.
- Alarming Decline in Funding: Despite the efficiency and effectiveness of UXO clearance in Laos, unfortunately there is a downward trend in funding. International funding for UXO in Laos declined by 22% from 2007 to 2008. Despite the continuing and clear needs in Laos, this follows the overall international trend of decreased funding for demining activities.
- Increase in U.S. Funding: During the Vietnam War, the U.S. spent an average of $2 million per day for nine years bombing Laos. In recent years, the U.S. has spent approximately $2.7 million per year on UXO clearance in Laos; in 2009 Laos will receive a total of $3.5 million through different NGOs. This level of funding is not only inadequate, it is not commensurate with the moral responsibility of the U.S. for this issue. We recommend an immediate doubling of U.S. funding for UXO clearance in Laos, to $7 million per year, and substantial increases over the next ten years.
- Increase in International Funding: The Lao PDR has assumed a leadership role in garnering international support for the Convention on Cluster Munitions, further expanding its commitment to this effort by hosting the First Meeting of the State Parties to the Convention in 2010. The international community should support the Lao PDR with increased funding and other resources to help the country meet its Convention obligations.
- Expand Open Dialogue and Collaboration: The extent of the UXO problem in Laos requires the coordinated efforts of governments, NGOs and private sector representatives. The Lao PDR’s Convention obligations to expedite clearance and increase victim assistance will likely escalate current activities, requiring even greater coordination and collaboration. It will be important for all stakeholders, including donor countries, to share information on the challenges and opportunities over the next decade for the UXO sector in Laos.
Full ReportOn November 5, 2009 in Washington, D.C., Legacies of War convened a meeting to focus on the status of cluster bomb clearance, victim assistance and risk education in Laos today. Given growing international attention to the issue of cluster bombs and improved U.S.- Laos relations, this meeting was an historic opportunity to bring together representatives from governments and the non-profit sector to finally address the long-term problem of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos. Participants discussed opportunities for raising awareness, clearing UXO, and supporting victims in the country. Speakers from Laos and the U.S. shared their perspectives on the possibilities for greater collaboration between the public and private sectors to address this enduring problem.
Welcome and IntroductionsFollowing introductory remarks from Brett Dakin, Chair, Board of Directors, Legacies of War, and Channapha Khamvongsa, Executive Director, Legacies of War, participants were addressed by H.E. Phiane Philakone, the Ambassador of the Lao PDR to the United States, Canada and Mexico. Ambassador Philakone provided background on the United States’ involvement in Laos during the Vietnam War, including the extent of U.S. bombings. From 1964 to 1973, the U.S. dropped more than 2 million tons of ordnance on Laos during 580,000 bombing missions. This equals a planeload of bombs every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years. Laos has the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the history of the world. Ambassador Philakone also stated that up to 30% of the cluster bombs dropped by the United States in Laos – or 78 million bomblets – had failed to detonate, leaving extensive contamination from UXO in the countryside. Over one-third of the land in Laos is contaminated by UXO. More than 34,000 people have been maimed or killed since the war’s end, and more innocent victims are claimed every day. About 40% of accidents result in death, and 60% of the victims are children. UXO remains a major barrier to the safety, health, livelihood, and food security of the people of Laos. Ambassador Philakone expressed the optimism he felt due to warming relations between the U.S. and Lao governments since the end of the war. He hopes this will continue with the U.S. continuing to fund and increase support for UXO clearance, victim assistance and risk education in Laos.
UXO Sector: Strategy, Research & CoordinationThe first panel of the day was dedicated to a discussion of the UXO clearance sector in Laos, which has evolved into a highly efficient and effective sector, featuring effective government oversight and increasing capacity among government agencies, NGOs, and commercial operators working in the country.
Safe Path Forward Strategic PlanFirst, Dr. Maligna Saignavongs, Director, National Regulatory Authority (NRA), along with Tim Horner, United Nations Development Program advisor to the NRA, spoke in detail about the Lao government’s Safe Path Forward Strategic Plan. Dr. Saignavongs detailed the extent of UXO contamination in Laos, the history of UXO clearance, and the role of the NRA in formulating a new plan for clearance. The Safe Path Forward Strategic Plan II (2010 – 2020) was completed in September 2009 to update the national strategy for the entire UXO clearance sector (which includes seven non-profit operators and four commercial operators). Dr. Saignavongs stated that the goal of the Plan is for “The Lao PDR to be free from the threat of UXO, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment contributing to development and where UXO victims are fully integrated into their societies and their needs are met.” One specific goal of the plan is to reduce casualties to 75 people per year within 10 years. In recent years the amount of UXO cleared has increased dramatically with new equipment and greater efficiency. On the other hand, donor contributions to humanitarian clearance have been declining.
Victim Assistance & Rehabilitation
“Our goal is for the Lao PDR to be free from the threat of UXO, where individuals and communities live in a safe environment contributing to development and Dr. Saignavongs concluded that the UXO sector under the NRA strategic plan is well structured to make significant progress with increased efficiency and effectiveness. However, the need for long-term financial support remains a significant problem.” – Dr. Maligna SaignavongsDr. Saignavongs was followed by Mike Boddington, Technical Advisor, Victim Assistance, NRA and Executive Consultant, Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE), who discussed the results of the NRA’s comprehensive Victim Assistance & Rehabilitation – National Survey, conducted in 2008. Boddington began by noting that the NRA’s mandate for victim assistance is “to establish a national database of UXO victims, update it regularly, and factor the physical and socio-economic rehabilitation needs of survivors into all national and local public health initiatives.” To this end, in 2008 the NRA completed a national survey in 17 of the 19 Lao provinces covering 9,066 villages (95% of total), and collected data on all casualties from 1964 through 2008. The survey showed that casualties during and immediately after the war were very high, but gradually declined and have held steady at about 300 per year since the early 1990s. During the war cluster submunitions were responsible for 13% of the casualties, but since 1999 they have caused 29% of casualties along with close to another 5% from small and large bombs. There have been over 34,000 casualties since the end of the war in 1973. Presently, there are two people killed or injured every three days. According to Boddington, the NRA is building on the survey information to develop papers on data collection and medical/rehabilitation service needs and advocacy in conjunction with government ministries and NGOs working to help victims. Of course, the biggest challenge is the lack of adequate funding for victim assistance. Currently, only about $2.5 million is available annually for data collection, medical care, physical and psychosocial rehabilitation, economic rehabilitation and vocational training, and advocacy. This funding comes through various NGOs and UNICEF. To meet the objectives of the Safe Path Forward Strategic Plan at least $4.85 million annually is needed.
U.S. Assistance to Laos
Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement Bureau of Political-Military Affairs U.S. Department of State Congress provided $1,900,000 in the U.S.-Laos “bilateral line” of the Fiscal Year 2009 Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining (NADR) budget. PM/WRA was able to add an additional $1,798,000 from other parts of the NADR budget, which raised the total amount of FY-09 money spent in Laos of $3,498,000. Mine/UXO Action assistance to Laos in Fiscal Year 2009: Armor Group (assistance to UXO Lao and the NRA) $1,700,000 World Education (risk education and victims’ assistance) 700,000 Mines Advisory Group (clearance) 650,000 Norwegian People’s Aid (clearance) 400,000 Swiss Foundation for Mine Action (FSD) (capacity building, EOD training) 348,000 TOTAL $3,498,000 Source: Charles A. Stonecipher, PM/WRA, 202-663-0085, 5 November 2009Charles Stonecipher, program officer for Asia and the Pacific at the State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (WRA), presented an overview of U.S. demining assistance and the history and future of funding in Laos. Stonecipher began by providing an overview of U.S. demining assistance globally. Over the past 12 years, the U.S. has dispersed funds to about 50 countries for UXO clearance. In 2008, $78 million was spent, with half going to Iraq and Afghanistan. From the remaining funds, ten percent went to Laos. In 2009, Laos will receive a total of $3.5 million, dispersed through NGOs. Stonecipher stated that it is difficult to strike a balance among funding for clearance, victim assistance, and risk education. Currently, most of the funding from WRA is for clearance- related work, with some small amounts of funding for victim assistance and risk education. Stonecipher touched on progress related to the release of classified U.S. bombing data. Based on a request from the Lao government, the U.S. will be signing an agreement to provide additional maps of strike data recently released from the Navy and Marines, where previous data was mostly from the Air Force. This will help to further identify contaminated lands. The highlight of Mr. Stonecipher’s presentation was his statement that “The NRA’s UXO program in Laos has accomplished a great deal. It is one of the best programs in the world – the gold standard.” He stressed that the program has improved efficiency significantly in recent years, stating that, “It spends money wisely and is a good partner.” Mr. Stonecipher went on to talk about the funding process and answered related questions. He spoke about the various levels of input that go into determining funding allocations, including the U.S. Embassy in Laos, WRA, and other offices within the State Department. He emphasized that WRA can make recommendations on funding, but ultimately Congress must allocate the money.
“The NRA’s UXO program in Laos has accomplished a great deal. It is one of the best programs in the world – the gold standard.” – Charles StonecipherGenerally, funding for UXO clearance is on a downward trend. In many countries UXO funding is being mainstreamed into general development rather than being maintained separately. One of the factors contributing to declining funding is the falling number of casualties, particularly in Vietnam and Cambodia. However, he stressed the exception of Laos, where cluster munitions have a longer life than land mines. Annual casualties in Laos have held steady through the 1990s and 2000s, while big declines have occurred in Cambodia and Vietnam. WRA requested $3 to $3.5 million for Laos in FY2010. When asked to comment on the special $6 million allocation for the UXO sector in Laos proposed in the FY2010 Senate appropriation bill Stonecipher said in an ideal world, he would like to allocate $5 million a year to Laos – an amount he thinks can be spent wisely now, while more capacity for additional funding is developed. (Note: In December 2009 Congress passed the FY 2010 budget with a $5 million allocation for the UXO sector in Laos.) Stonecipher presented the key challenge for Laos: how to adapt its program for the long term – possibly training the army or local villagers in UXO clearance and medical trauma. Stonecipher concluded by underscoring the need for the UXO sector in Laos to start planning for ways to sustain its UXO clearance program once international funding ceases.
Luncheon SpeakerH.E. Kanika Phommachanh, Permanent Representative of the Lao PDR to the United Nations, delivered the luncheon speech, which emphasized UXO clearance as essential to the ability of Laos to meet the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for lifting the country out of poverty and its Least Developed Country status by 2020. Her talk high lighted the fact that UXO creates a terrible burden not only in human casualties but also for economic development. Madame Phommachanh started her speech by acknowledging the significance of this gathering of key parties involved in addressing the problem of UXO in Laos. She went on to discuss the strong link between UXO contamination and rural areas with the highest levels of poverty. UXO contaminates 50% of the arable land, creating poverty and food insecurity in these regions. Farmers and related occupations represent 50% of the casualties, while 35% of casualties are children. She stated, “When a main breadwinner is killed or seriously injured, the entire family and community suffer.”
“UXO clearance and victim assistance programs have contributed to meeting the MDGs by opening access to schools, transportation routes and improved health services.” – H.E. Kanika PhommachanhAt the same time, she stressed that UXO clearance and victim assistance programs have contributed to meeting the MDGs by opening access to schools, transportation routes and improved health services. Victim assistance also provides opportunities for women and training in non-traditional work sectors. Madame Phommachanh concluded her talk by underscoring the commitment of Laos to work with all parties in ending the legacy of UXO to allow the citizens of the Lao PDR to live safely on the land and to have access to farmland, schools, villages and homes. Madame Phommachanh also discussed the leadership role of Laos in the international effort to ban cluster munitions. As a result of its serious UXO problems, Laos was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Laos has a strong commitment to implementing the treaty obligations. Once 30 countries have ratified the treaty, Laos will likely host the First Meeting of the States Parties. The government is actively planning for this event in cooperation with other participants in the treaty.
In the Village: UXO Clearance, Mine Risk Education and DevelopmentThe afternoon session focused on NGOs working in the UXO sector in Laos. These groups receive various sources of private and public funding, including from the U.S. State Department, Leahy War Victims Fund and Department of Agriculture. The experience and knowledge of these organizations provided invaluable insights on future program and funding needs.
Formal and Unregulated UXO ClearanceThe session began with a presentation by Steve Wilson of Mines Advisory Group (MAG). MAG was the first NGO to begin UXO clearance in Laos, starting in 1994. Wilson explained that formal clearance is regulated by the NRA and conducted using international standard practices. The work includes roving teams that respond to reports of UXO from villagers as well as teams that clear large tracts of land for farming and development. A great deal more funding is needed for formal clearance, but MAG feels it must be integrated with economic development to be effective. One of the biggest challenges, and a major cause of accidents, is the extensive practice of informal UXO clearance by the general population, primarily collection of UXO to sell as scrap metal. Even though it is illegal to tamper with or take UXO, MAG found 86,000 pieces of live munitions in the Xieng Khouang foundry this year. Villagers are willing to risk collecting, transporting, and sometimes defusing bombs to earn additional income. Risk education only works to a certain extent in this situation. To substantially reduce the problem there must be economic alternatives. When asked if MAG is considering other models for UXO clearance given the massive levels of contamination in Laos, Wilson said MAG is evaluating the possibility of training local residents to clear UXO found in the immediate area. Another model being considered is legalizing and regulating scrap collection, in turn providing training on handling UXO.
Awareness & EducationNext, Sarah Bruinooge of World Education/Consortium spoke of the organization’s work providing UXO prevention and survivor assistance services in Laos since 1996. The group has trained medical emergency personnel in trauma treatment for UXO victims in four provinces, and provided job training for UXO victims, while working to get injured children back to school. The recipients of their services often help design new programs for other victims. The group also provides risk education in the schools. World Education is currently meeting with the NRA and Lao Ministry of Education to incorporate their program into the National Education Program.
UXO Development IssuesThis section of the panel began with a presentation by Wendy Batson of Handicap International, USA (HI). Batson stated that most UXO accidents in Laos are caused by economic problems in remote, ethnic villages where people are extremely poor. The recent NRA survey of victims revealed that 84% of UXO casualties are males with the highest rates for boys ages 6-15 and then young men 16-21. Many accidents occur because families have no choice but to farm fields contaminated with UXO or collect scrap metal to sell. As a result, HI’s overall objective is to contribute to poverty reduction. HI works in 30 villages, using a team approach to combine formal clearance with community economic development and the provision of other basic services. This involves post-clearance assessments to evaluate the socio-economic impact of clearance and further development needs. HI also provides risk education, distributing posters, books, and other materials to teach adults and children of the risks. Like MAG, HI is providing input to the National Regulatory Authority regarding the possibility of legalizing and regulating scrap metal collection. Next, Steve Ginther of Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI) discussed HDI’s work linking mine action with agricultural development and food security in Khammoune Province. Land has been cleared to dig wells for irrigation and clean water and to build sanitation systems. Roads and land around schools also have been cleared to make them safe for children to attend. The HDI program has the first all-female demining team in Khammoune Province. They cleared 3 million square meters of land, destroying 7,000 pieces of UXO. Children in 85 schools are now growing gardens. In addition, HDI provides 13,000 children in 109 schools with a midday snack of high protein soy and 58,000 take home rations for students and teachers. School enrollment is up significantly at these schools with attendance at 98%. They are running a pilot program to provide families with chickens and pigs and training on how to care for them.
Wrap Up and SummaryTitus Peachey of the Mennonite Central Committee led a final session to discuss what the participants had learned during the day and to develop a strategy to move forward. There was general agreement among participants about the value of the convening. It provided an opportunity to learn more about each other’s work and strategies, especially among NGOs that receive U.S. funding. The overall decline in demining funding was of concern to participants, and there was discussion about how to raise awareness among representatives of the U.S. government and the American public about the continuing needs in Laos. The State Department presentation and discussion was integral to this effort, and the group expressed the desire for more such engagements in the future.
Wendy Batson Executive Director Handicap International-USA Mike Boddington Victims Assistance Advisor UXO Lao Fred Branfman Writer Voices from the Plain of Jars Sarah Bruinooge Program Officer World Education/Consortium Jacqui Chagnon Somxay Chaisone EmiAna, Inc & Lanxang Contracting, LLC Brett Dakin Chair, Board of Directors Legacies of War Kae Dakin Development Consultant Kae Dakin Consulting Catherin Dalpino Visiting Professor of Asian Studies Georgetown University Matt Durden Associate Cooley Godward Kronish LLP Bob Eaton Director E-Mine: Electronic Mine Information Network Steve Ginther Program Manager for Mine Action Humpty Dumpty Institute Susan Hammond Director War Legacies Tim Horner Senior UXO Technical Advisor United Nations Development Program (UNDP)-Laos Zach Hudson U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmine and Cluster Munitions Handicap International-USA Ed Kenney Senior Program Officer Handicap International-USA Nakhone Keodara Campaign Coordinator Legacies of War Channapha Khamvongsa Executive Director Legacies of War Bonnie Kwon Coordinator Restaurant Opportunities Center of Washington DC (ROC-DC) Teddy Ky-Nam Miller National Community Reinvestment Coalition
Helly Lee Member, Advisory Committee Legacies of War Lora Lumpe Consultant Open Society Institute Cynthia Thi-My-Huyen Nguyen, MD Board Member Legacies of War Titus Peachey Director of Peace Education Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Kanika Phommachanh Ambassador of the Lao PDR to the UN Lao PDR UN Mission Mali Phonpadith Artist Lao Heritage Foundation (collaborator) Jack Rattanavong Member, Board of Directors Legacies of War Elaine Russell Member, Board of Directors Legacies of War, Advocacy Committee Alex San Dinero Community Member/Artist Mai Sayavongs Minister Counselor Lao PDR Embassy Washington, D.C. Viengkham Senbouttalath Third Secretary Lao PDR Embassy Washington, D.C. Dori Shimoda President Give Children A Choice Barbara Shimoda Vice President/Healthcare Projects Director Give Children A Choice Bruce Shoemaker Program Consultant SE Asia McKnight Foundation Jack Silberman Documentary Film Director Bombies Charles Stonecipher Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement U.S. Department of State Sakuna Thongchanh Community Consultant Legacies of War Brett Tolman Advocacy Intern Legacies of War Bounmivieng Viengnhouthasath Assistant Defense and Military Attache Lao PDR Embassy Washington, D.C. Steve Wilson Director North America Mines Advisory Group (MAG)