Surviving the Peace: New Film Highlights Lingering Challenges in Laos

Posted by David Cavey
June 8, 2012
Laotian Technician Prods Ground in Search of Explosive Devices

More than thirty-five years after the Vietnam War, Laos continues to struggle with the legacy of unexploded ordnance dropped by U.S. military aircraft seeking to disrupt military supply routes used by North Vietnamese forces. Surviving the Peace, a powerful short film produced by our partners at Mines Advisory Group (MAG), with support from the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), captures the kind of challenges facing rural families not only in Laos, but in dozens of countries around the world long after conflicts end, and what the United States is doing to help.

The film tells the story of a Lao family coping with the consequences of this continuing challenge. An unnamed Lao man tells how one night while tending a cooking fire, he was accidently blinded when the heat detonated a long buried piece of ordnance. The man and his wife talk about their daily life, and their struggle to make ends meet. The film also features the ongoing work by MAG and its local clearance technicians, supported by our Bureau's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, to find and safely dispose of these hidden hazards.

During the 1960s, more than 2.5 million tons of U.S. munitions were dropped in Laos, mainly in rural, unpopulated "drop zones" along its border with Vietnam. But in subsequent decades, as the population in rural areas of Laos continued to grow, there has been increasing pressure to reclaim potentially dangerous areas for expanding communities. Thus, these long-abandoned munitions continue to threaten the Lao people, especially in the poorer areas of the country, where the market for potential scrap metal recovered from unexploded bombs is only increasing the risk.

Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $47 million in supporting Laos to address these explosive remnants of war, as documented in To Walk the Earth in Safety, our annual report on U.S Conventional Weapons Destruction programs. As the United States works to help clear millions of pieces of unexploded ordnance in Laos, we consider agricultural land, as well as areas around hospitals and schools, to be top priorities. Another goal is to develop indigenous capability to address lingering threats from unexploded munitions and landmines. UXO Lao, the Government of Laos' semi-independent government agency charged with conducting clearance operations, receives a large percentage of this funding. State Department funding for independent clearance operations and school-based awareness education is also provided to several international non-governmental organizations in addition to MAG, including Norwegian People's Aid, Clear Path International, Catholic Relief Services, Spirit of Soccer, and the World Education Consortium.

The United States is the world's single largest financial supporter of Conventional Weapons Destruction, including Humanitarian Mine Action, helping many communities recover from conflicts by safely clearing landmines and unexploded munitions. Since 1993, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Department of State's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs has delivered more than $1.9 billion in support in over 90 countries, saving countless lives through clearance operations, risk education, and survivors' assistance programs administered by more than 60 NGOs worldwide. We are proud of the work that the Department does to help families in Laos and other post-conflict countries, and are dedicated to continuing to support them in the years ahead.

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