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Eleven Die, 44 Injured In UXO Accidents During 2021

Source: Vientiane Times

The National Regulatory Authority (NRA) for the UXO/Mine Action Sector recorded 31 UXO accidents over the course of 2021, in which 44 people were injured and 11 died.

The figures were reported during a recent videoconference between the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the NRA and the United Nations Development Programme.

Director General of the NRA, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Mr Chomyaeng Phengthongsawath, said the Covid-19 outbreak had forced some field operations to be suspended, meaning that the clearance of UXO had slowed, resulting in a higher number of casualties in 2021.

Some of the authority’s planned activities have been delayed and will now be carried over into 2022, including mine risk education among local communities, Mr Chomyaeng said.

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Just last week, three men working as part of a survey team with UXO Lao were killed instantly and two others were injured when searching for unexploded ordnance on a coffee plantation in Pakxong district, Champassak province, according to the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao).

The tragic accident occurred as team members were undertaking routine survey and clearance operations, and one of the two survivors is in critical condition.

The UXO Lao unit in Champassak is conducting an enquiry into the incident.

Most UXO-related accidents occur when people are farming and turning over soil, which disturbs munitions that lay buried, causing them to explode. Other accidents involve children who find a cluster bomb and play with it, which also triggers an explosion.

Laos is heavily affected by unexploded ordnance. Of the estimated 270 million cluster munitions dropped on Laos during the Indochina War, about 30 percent failed to explode. But only one percent of these devices has been removed since 1996.

UXO clearance is difficult because most cluster munitions were dropped in mountainous areas, rivers and forests.

However, the authority will continue to work with ministries, other bodies and local authorities to set priority areas for clearance, especially land that can be used for development purposes as well as residential areas, to support social and economic development.

When land has been cleared, the authority will consider its appropriate use.

UXO clearance is currently underway in the provinces of Huaphan, Luang Prabang, Xieng Khuang, Khammuan, Savannakhet, Saravan, Champassak, Xekong and Attapeu.

Clearance operations aim to free up land for activities that will enhance the well-being and livelihoods of impoverished rural communities.