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Did you know that between the years of 1964 and 1973, 260 million sub-munitions were dropped over Lao PDR? This equals to a bomb dropped into Laos every eight minutes for nine years straight. That number is more than the amount dropped worldwide during the whole of World War Two! Yet, 80 million sub-munitions out of those 260 million sub-munitions failed to explode, and are still left in Laos today, ready to detonate any second. Those failed sub-munitions are called cluster bombs, also known as bombies. These hazardous weapons function like land mines, and may explode when handled or moved, making them a deadly threat towards civilians. In these desperate times, our Earth is calling for desperate measures, it is essential for organizations across the world to pay close attention towards this problem and prioritize our effort for a new international ban and clearance on cluster bombs in Laos (MacKinnon).
Essentially, not only are the abundance of poverty throughout this country are the forces that causes the rise in death tolls and bomb accidents, but Laos's scarcity of arable land is a major reason that hinders the developing progress. As every second, minute and day pass by, there is an increasing amount of victims caught by the cluster bombs. If lucky, they would only lose a limb or two, accompanied by a horrifying memory and experience that will haunt them for the rest of their life. For the not-so-lucky ones...their life, which has the potential to change and benefit the society, will be utterly demolished. Laos is a poor developing country with an inadequate health system (MacKinnon). Especially for the villagers that live in far remote places away from the city, the families there receive an income less than $1 U.S. every month (Allen). What makes it worse is to face the dilemma of surviving and living with bombies that can't be seen with the naked eye. A Lao girl might be cooking for dinner that night for her family, but the day after that...we might possibly not see her for the rest of our life. As hunger and poverty strikes, desperate farmers struggle anxiously to determine whether they shall take the incalculable risk to grow food in new fertile fields...that has a chance that it will contain a few cluster bombs hidden beneath the soil. There IS always a probability that a hazardous bomb is out there in the wild, ambushing its victim in its dark corner. They simply do not have a choice. Die in hunger and face the inevitable death? Or take a risk that might possibly bring their family fortune, food, and fame? It is a gamble between life and death (Allen). Although there are other ways to earn fast amount of money, selling scrap metals to unscrupulous dealers are increasing. As the demand of metals increases, the price of it inflates as well. Little by little, this causes unexploded ordnance becoming a common cash crop for quick and easy money (At last...). Malevolent dealers act kind on the surface by lending or renting metal detectors to Lao so they can hunt for unexploded ordnance, but beneath their skin, they are silently luring all of them into their own death. Farmers are gambling life and limbs for metal that brings a few dollars a pound (At last...). The majority of the unexploded ordnance deaths and casualties in the past years in Laos were not accidents or the insufficient knowledge of cluster bombs. It is the cause of scrap trade which entices a large amount of people to hunt, meddle, and fiddle with the harmful unexploded ordnance. The idea of trading war scraps for money makes up an average of 30% to 80% of all the unexploded ordnance casualties. People in Laos live under in fear every second of their life, with a dark and dim future that might disappear any moment (Bomb Hunters).
The origin of all these cluster bombs landing in Laos is caused by the United States of America which happened around 50 years ago. Yet, even today they still did not take the responsibility and blame to aid Laos in clearing the cluster bomb. United States, which caused most of these injuries, has done little to restore the damage towards a neutral country. During the Vietnam War, USA planned to stop the growing communist movement in Laos and destroy the North Vietnamese army's Ho Chi Minh trail. The Ho Chi Minh trail runs through Laos and is a convenient route that can easily transport troops and supplies from North to South Vietnam (Bomb Hunters). The United States called Laos "the Other Theatre", due to the reason that what they did there was conducted covertly and secretly. What the USA did during that time to Laos was far beyond gruesome and reality that no one would have imagined. US pilots were told that they could ignore the rules of engagement in Laos, which had to be kept in Vietnam and Cambodia. Bombers were free to bomb whatever they liked: temples, hospitals, schools, villages, anything. It was unbelievable that Laos was also used as a dumping ground for US pilots returning to base in Thailand from raids in Vietnam. The pilots were ordered to return with no bombs on board (Wiseman). The US basically did not care and value any human life, targeting any victims available. They are simply annihilating any area whether human beings are in it or not. The Vietnam War turned Laos, a country that was once clean and environmentally fresh into a place full of obstacles and booby traps, where the penalty of one wrong stop or mishap is death and dismemberment (Wiseman). The U.S. government has been reluctant to take an active role in the clearance of bombs.So what help and support has the U.S. brought to Laos after the war? Nothing. Although, the U.S. Defense Department intends to train instructors and build programs in Laos to instruct them about cluster bombs (Wiseman). Sadly, that idea has yet to become a reality. Even if the people in Laos could attempt to get reparation and money for all their human losses, all of it doesn't matter. It's not about dollars; it's about human decency, human rights and human value (Laos reaps...). In the U.S., CIA recruited a California-based group comprised of Hmong people to fight Communism. That group of people opposes aid to Laos, and even refuses to donate and support them (MacKinnon). Time has gone by, and yet no effort of change has been made. It is a total disaster.
It is the government's responsibility to clear all the unexploded ordnance in and throughout Laos, so that everyone can live in peace and harmony. However, without donors' funding or support, Laos's government is basically birds without wings. It will be hard for the government to succeed, as they don't have the money and strength to conduct what they wanted to do. Clearing bombs needs great resources and great resources requires money. With the limited capacity and technology in Laos, it will take more than a hundred years to clear the land bomb-less (UXO LAO). As the world's most undeveloped country, Laos's government has other priorities that need more attention than clearing unexploded ordnance, such as health and education. The country that bombed Laos has done little to none to help remove those bombs. Laos receives most of its resources from its allies such as Canada, Japan, and Australia, whom supports and aids them all these years (UXO LAO). Nonetheless, the number of donors and support that they are getting is declining. The government gets clearance requests for 500-600 hectares just in Xieng Khouang alone, but they can only accommodate around 400 hectares (Allen). With the low income for every family, they cannot offer or pay to be educated about bombies. Children, teenagers, elders, and even adults in Laos do not know what a cluster bomb looks like. Let alone the idea of them having the knowledge to do what is needed when they encounter a bomb. There is an even higher chance the villagers will be attracted towards the bright yellow balls, not knowing the consequences that they will face in the next couple of seconds. "Anything-or nothing-can set off these anti-personnel bombs." (MacKinnon). Luckily, in 1996, the Lao Government established the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, known as UXO Lao with the support of United Nations Development Program, Unicef, and other organizations. Currently, they are making progress in clearing the bombs, in addition to spreading the news and teaching children about the harmfulness of cluster bombs and how to identify them immediately. The number and percentage of unexploded ordnance destroyed by UXO Lao from 1996 to 2008 is 387,645...or 0.49%. With that speed and progress, there is a great amount of space for this wonderful organization to improve. By eliminating all those sub-munitions, it helps eradicate poverty and contribute immensely to the healthcare of its citizens. UXO Laos can possibly bring Laos out of the "Least Developed Country" status by 2020, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals for their country (UXO LAO).
The damage and destruction made by cluster bombs has made hundreds of countries all over the world to alter their view, banning and rejecting cluster munitions forever. On May 19, 2008, 100 countries gathered in Dublin, Ireland to negotiate a new international treaty aimed at prohibiting cluster bombs (At last...). "The treaty is a strong, comprehensive ban on cluster munitions. Any attempts to water it down should be rejected completely," said Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch (Allen). As cluster bombs has a wide area effect when they were dropped, and some may remain dangerous and pose a threat when they fail to explode on impact, countries are willing to sign this treaty to make sure that this dangerous weapon not be used again. This new international treaty prohibits the use, production and trade of bombies, a six-year deadline for the destruction of all existing stocks of any cluster-munitions. Furthermore, the countries that signed this treaty will have a deadline to aid the clearance of contaminated areas (Laos reaps...). However, countries that are producers of cluster combs such as United States, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Israel argued that they cannot ban their weapons until they have developed military alternatives (Allen). This will only weaken the intended purpose of the ban, which is to save countless of lives and the lives of our future generations.
What was done already can't be changed. History cannot be altered in any way. We cannot travel back in time and stop the United States from dropping sub-munitions into Laos. Despite what had happened, we can offer our help and care to minimize the damage and scars that are indented into the heart and life of millions of Lao. Organizations should step up and help Laos back to its feet to where it was were. A treaty can be abandoned, and violated. They cannot secure something forever. Cluster bombs will always be in existence on this planet...cautiously waiting for its next unlucky victim.
- Allen, Terry. "Unexploded Ordnance: Our Legacy in Laos." In These Times (2006): 1. Web. 30 Mar 2010.
- "Bomb Hunters." BBC World Service. BBC, 13 June 2009. Web. 29 Mar 2010.
- MacKinnon, Ian. "Forty years on, Laos reaps bitter harvest of the secret war." Guardian 3 December 2008: 1. Web. 29 Mar 2010.
- Robson, Angela. "At last, a ban on cluster bombs." Le Monde diplomatique (2008): 1. Web. 29 Mar 2010.
- Robson, Angela. "Laos reaps a deadly harvest." Le Monde diplomatique (2008): 1. Web. 29 Mar 2010.
- "UXO LAO: THE ORGANISATION ." Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme . UXO LAO, 2008. Web. 29 Mar 2010.
- Wiseman, Paul. "30-Year-Old Bombs Still Very Deadly in Laos." USA TODAY Dec. 11 2003: n.p. SIRS Researcher. Web. 31 March 2010.