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President Obama has announced United States funding of $90 million over three years to support the survey and clearance of unexploded bombs in Laos, doubling its existing annual commitment.
MAG Lao PDR’s Country Director, Simon Rea, said: “This is extremely welcome news and will enable tremendous strides forward in helping Laos to become free from the bombs that continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people.
“So many communities in Laos have no choice but to risk their lives on a daily basis going about their everyday activities – farmers digging their land, families building new homes, communities undertaking infrastructure development – while children continue to be those who are most at risk of death or injury from bombs dropped decades before they were even born.”
Laos is the most bombed country per capita in the world as a result of the conflict that ran from 1964 to 1973, when the US dropped two million tonnes of ordnance on the country. The items that failed to detonate at that time have continued to threaten and destroy lives for generations. Fifty-eight per cent of those killed or injured by unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Laos from 2013 to 2015 were under the age of 18.
MAG and fellow operators estimate, based on a detailed analysis of historical clearance data across the whole country that has been cross-referenced with US bombing records, that there is approximately 1,600km² of land that still requires UXO clearance – an area equivalent to twice the size of New York City. It will only though be through the completion of a national survey, an activity now possible with the increased funding from the US, that the true extent of contamination will be known.
“Financial support from the US has already helped MAG and other organisations to make huge progress in removing the threat,” said Simon Rea. “In the coming months, MAG will be working in close coordination with the US Department of State, Lao national authorities and the other operators to help make sure that the increased funding is utilised in the most effective manner.”
About MAG in Laos
Non-governmental organisation MAG (Mines Advisory Group) has been operational in Laos for 22 years, directly helping more than 800,000 people during this time. MAG has cleared more than 56 million square metres of UXO-contaminated land and destroyed 203,000 dangerous items, almost half of which were cluster munitions.
MAG has also delivered close to 3,000 mine risk education sessions, during which important safety and awareness messages are provided to community members regarding the dangers of UXO and how to minimise the risk of being involved in an accident.
MAG works in close coordination with a range of local authorities at village, district and provincial level to ensure that Government of Lao PDR development planning is fully integrated into MAG Lao PDR’s task planning process. MAG also works in coordination with development partners to maximise the impact of UXO clearance and ensure that land will be used productively after clearance.
MAG currently employs 393 people in Laos, of whom 98 per cent are Lao nationals recruited from the communities in which MAG operates. 27 per cent of staff are women, who work in a range of technical and support roles, with a significant number in senior management positions.
MAG shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize as a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.