Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quality of Life Assocation: bringing hope to UXO accident survivors

UXO accident survivors, family members of UXO victims and impoverished people living in Xieng Khuang province are learning job skills with the help of a local support group – the Xieng Khuang Quality of Life Association (QLA).

Trainees learn how to cut fabric to make sinh and other clothes.
QLA Chairman Mr Thoummy Silamphan said the province set up and registered the non-profit association last year. Its main aim is to provide people with information about what to expect after an accident and to provide support for UXO accident survivors. It is also looking at ways to solicit donations from foreign tourists.
Mr Thoummy said they set up the association in Xieng Khuang province because it is one of the most bomb affected areas in Laos. “Xieng Khuang, know for the Plain of Jars, is also the plain of scars.”
He said the presence of the buried bombs affects the quality of life of local people in many ways. Economic development is stalled. Children need to learn at an early age that they must be careful around their homes and villages. Agriculture is more difficult and often dangerous. Many people who have survived an accident need expensive medical care and follow-up treatment; families who have lost a loved one also need economic support and new livelihoods.
The association’s membership consists mainly of people who survived a UXO accident or their immediate family members.
Mr Thoummy said funds for activities are raised through donations and contributions from international donors. The QLA runs a visitor centre, village shop, and traditional massage parlour in the provincial capital Phonsavan.
The visitor centre informs international tourists through a modern illustrated exhibition about “our lives with the bombs” and “survivor stories”. In a reading and video room visitors can read books and watch videos made by the QLA. The village shop sells products made in UXO-affected communities.
The QLA centre has been designed with assistance from Germany (GIZ, Schmitz Foundation, and German Embassy) and the USA (World Education, McKnight Foundation, and American Embassy). Three tour guides tell visitors about their own lives, which are representative examples of the stories of many UXO survivors.
The QLA supports UXO affected communities through training on animal raising, weaving and dyeing, and the production of hand-crafted souvenirs. Another important aspect is emergency and long term medical care as well as psycho-social support.
“The money we get from our services and donations is used to help UXO survivors and poor people by running training courses for them,” Mr Thoummy said.
The association has run training courses for UXO accident survivors, family members of UXO victims and poor people in nine villages of the province that were targeted by the association for assistance after it conducted a survey among local communities.
“We select 15 people representing 15 families in a village to attend a course. We firstly give priority to a UXO affected family member and UXO survivors because they are our target groups. Our second priority is poor families,” Mr Thoummy said.
After attending a training course on livestock or poultry raising, each person is given 600,000-700,000 kip to use as capital to undertake this activity. Those who attend a training course on weaving, making handicrafts or tailoring can sell their products at the QLA village shop.
The association provides all the materials needed for trainees to make the products and pays them for each item in accordance with their ability and the orders placed by the QLA. A training course on tailoring has taught women how to sew small fabric bags to contain laptops and mobile phones.
Mr Thoummy said the association will continue to help UXO affected communities in all districts of the province. A large number of people need assistance and have no permanent job to provide them with a regular source of income.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Phon Thikeo
(Latest Update April 28, 2012)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Australia a strong supporter of UXO clearance in Laos

The Australian government has contributed a further AU$1 million through the UXO Trust Fund, to support UXO clearance, risk awareness and rehabilitation programmes in Laos.
Australian Ambassador to Laos Ms Lynda Worthaisong and UNDP Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham shake hands at a ceremony to mark International UXO/Mine Awareness Day.
Australian Ambassador to Laos Ms Lynda Worthaisong made the announcement in Vientiane yesterday on International UXO/Mine Awareness Day, reaffirming Australia’s strong commitment to supporting UXO clearance and awareness programmes in Laos.
Ms Worthaisong said that Australia is a longstanding supporter of UXO action in Laos. “Since 1996, we have provided an estimated AU$24 million for UXO clearance, risk education and UXO survivors. I am very pleased to be announcing further support to the sector on the occasion of International UXO/Mine Awareness Day.”
The additional AU$1 million will go towards various initiatives which are funded through the UXO Trust Fund. The fund is managed and administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to increase government ownership, and improve coordination and the effective prioritisation of work in the UXO sector.
Australia was one of the first donors to the UXO Trust Fund, and this year’s contribution follows on from about AU$5 million provided by the Australian government since the fund was established. It is now the single biggest donor to the fund.
UNDP Resident Representative Mr Minh Pham was also in attendance at the Awareness Day ceremony. He thanked the Australian government for their generous contribution and ongoing commitment to UXO clearance in Laos.
“We welcome this support through the trust fund, which will ensure UXO work is achieving national development priorities,” he said. “Laos will not be able to clear UXO contaminated land if it works without the assistance of international organisations.”
The funding will go towards the core activities of the National Unexploded Ordnance Programme in Laos, otherwise known as UXO Lao. It is not earmarked and will be used to support various initiatives including clearing unexploded ordnance, roving tasks, surveys, risk education and training.
The presence and scale of UXO contamination in Laos is a major impediment to poverty reduction programmes and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Over 300 people are killed or injured in UXO accidents every year, while many times more are maimed or injured and the burden is born by poor families who can least afford it.
The presence of UXO prevents safe access to agricultural land which is pivotal to the livelihoods of the rural population. Extra resources for UXO clearance are also required before development initiatives such as road building, tourism and school construction can take place.
In recognition of the long-term negative impacts of UXO on affected communities, the Lao government has adopted an additional MDG on reducing the impact of UXO.
The UXO Trust Fund helps to ensure that clearance work and other initiatives are coordinated with the government’s national development priorities as outlined in the 7th National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2011 to 2015.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update April 05, 2012)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

EU committed to support Lao UXO sector

The European Union is committed to further support unexploded ordnance (UXO) clearance in Laos and enable the rural poor to improve their livelihoods.
Speaking during an interview with Lao media earlier this week while on a visit to an EU-funded UXO project in Savannakhet province, ChargĂ© d’Affaires of the EU Delegation to Laos Mr Michel Goffin said “The EU has been here for 14 years with Handicap International and other NGOs. We’re investing a lot of money and we will invest even more next year.”
Mr Goffin explained why the EU is engaging in UXO clearance outside of Europe. “The EU has been the location of many terrible wars and this is the first justification for us to be active and remove the traces of war outside Europe…we want to support the banning of cluster munitions and UXO clearance.”
He said other countries have only eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but Laos has another one related to UXO clearance. He pointed out that the obligation to remove UXO in Laos is not just the responsibility of Laos but of donor countries.
The EU not only aims to support UXO clearance but also to provide adequate capacity to the Lao government so that it is self-sufficient in terms of UXO clearance.
Lao Minister to the Government Office and President of the Leading Committee for Rural Development and Poverty Eradication, Mr Bounheuang Duangphachanh, also joined the trip to view the EU-funded UXO project implemented by Handicap International in 40 villages of Sepon, Nong and Vilabouly districts in Savannakhet province.
The main purpose of the visit was to see the progress, achievements and approaches used by Handicap International in their efforts to return residential and farming areas back to local communities.
Mr Bounheuang reiterated that UXO is one of the main causes of poverty in Laos.
“In recent years, we have cleared more than 30,000 hectares of UXO and detonated more than one million bombs in Laos but there are still many more bombs remaining throughout our country,” he said.
“Wherever we go, we will see only bombs. Lao people live under the threat of UXO. Every year, about 300 fatalities are reported and many of them are children.”
The minister called for the international community to provide more support for UXO clearance to help poor people in rural areas to expand their farmland and increase productivity.
The EU is one of the major donors to the UXO sector in Laos and works closely with national and international bodies to help the country reduce the UXO risk and alleviate poverty by providing financial assistance to implementing agencies. The EU supports Handicap International, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Lao National Regulatory Authority and Lao National UXO Programme.
Over the last decade, EU assistance to the UXO sector in Laos amounts to over 10 million euros, of which about 6.7 million euros has been provided through Handicap International for activities aiming at reducing UXO impact and victim assistance.
The EU recently approved a new financial contribution of 4 million euros, of which 2.6 million euros will be provided through a Call for Proposals and 1.3 million euros through a UXO Trust Fund managed by the United Nations Development Programme.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update March 24, 2012)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012


The unexploded ordnance (UXO) detection equipment company Mine Lab yesterday introduced a detector testing site in Vientiane, which they hope will set a standard for all UXO detectors to be used in Laos.
The testing site is supported by the Lao Union of Science and Engineering Associations and the Minerals and Metals Group UXO Department. Detection equipment was tested at Lao Techno Engineering with the help of expert Mr Douglas A. Handisides.
The test unit is quite easily replicated. Its design has not been patented, meaning it is public knowledge and can be used freely.
Mr Handisides said “We have done much research over the last four years and we came to feel the need for a standard testing block that detectors must pass before being used in Laos. For this reason we have constructed a test area made up of a completely metal free concrete block structure divided into five compartments, and covered in a layer of concrete about 20mm thick.”
The testing unit is made up of several compartments containing different types of soils found in Laos. They include sand, non-magnetic soil, and soil that contains magnetic mineral deposits.
The idea is to design a universal detector that can cover all soils found throughout Laos. This would save money and speed up clearance, and would also reduce human error when using different detector types and working in different provinces.
Mr Douglas added that checking many detector brands on this test area has come up with some interesting results. Some detectors can detect bomblets, but cannot detect 40mm shells, as the shells are aluminium.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita.
Remaining UXO is stalling development in many rural areas and preventing commercial investments in many sectors.
Due to the high amount of UXO in the country, Laos should be setting the global standard for detection equipment rather than accepting what is currently on the market, Mr Handisides said.
Laos should be pushing manufacturing companies to develop a detector that achieves safety and speed requirements with as little impact as possible on the ecosystem and soil microorganisms, he suggested.
The new testing area has the potential to set a global standard for detectors, he said.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update February 29, 2012)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Norway, US fund UXO clearance in southern provinces : Lao Voices

Norway and the United States yesterday contributed US$20 million towards an unexploded ordnance (UXO) survey and clearance project in Saravan, Xekong and Attapeu provinces.
The National Regulatory Authority (NRA) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in Vientiane on February 23.
The project’s budget for the five-year period from 2012-2016 has been provided by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and US State Department, NRA Director Mr Phoukhieo Chanthasomboun said at the signing ceremony.
“This project is very important in order to address the various issues posed by UXO,” he said.
Mr Phoukhieo said the project will help Lao people of all ethnicities in the three provinces to lead lives free from the dangers posed by UXO in line with the government’s National Socio-economic Development Plan, enabling them to expand their agricultural production and lift themselves from poverty.
The NPA is an international, non-governmental organisation based in Oslo, Norway, which has worked in Laos for humanitarian mine action since 1997.
Over the years, the NPA has provided strong support to UXO/Mine Action Sector work in Laos, helping to introduce new technology into the country’s efforts.
Mr Phoukhieo expressed his gratitude to the NPA for conducting UXO survey and clearance work in Saravan, Xekong and Attapeu provinces from 2007-2010.
Following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, the NRA will continue to work with the NPA to coordinate with the government from the central to grassroots level to ensure UXO survey and clearance work runs smoothly.
The Lao government is highly appreciative of both the Norwegian and US governments and also thanks the NPA for responsibly implementing this project, he said.
The NPA considers its Lao project one of the most important in its portfolio of countries.
“We work in more than 20 countries, clearing landmines, cluster munitions and other devices, but in many ways Laos is the most important,” NPA Director Mr Atle Karlsen said, pointing to the estimated size of the problem and Laos’ brave and exemplary leadership regarding the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
In September 2010, the NPA developed an approach called Land Release Survey, aiming to solve the problem in Laos. In the year and a half since, it has refined and tested this approach, which has shown great results, Mr Karlsen said.
The approach involves a range of survey principles, both non-technical and technical, adapted to the Lao context, he said, adding that it will establish a very real estimation of the remaining problem when it comes to cluster munitions.
M r Karlsen said he is happy that the NRA is adapting the national standard for surveying and greatly hopes that this approach and similar ones will assist in making a real impact on the ground over the next five years.
“We will expand and almost double our operations this year for the benefit of the sector in general and Saravan, Xekong and Attapeu provinces in particular,” he said.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update February 24, 2012)

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Deputy Prime Minister Mr Asang Laoly yesterday called on the Lao National Regulatory Authority (NRA) committee to work harder to establish a more detailed register of unexploded ordnance (UXO) victims nationwide.

Mr Asang Laoly ( left ) and Minister to the Government Office Mr Bounheuang Duangphachanh attend the meeting.
Speaking at the NRA’s annual meeting at the Government Office in Vientiane, Mr Asang said data is available regarding the number of UXO victims and survivors since the Indochina War ended in 1975.
However, he said the information needs to be more specific. “There are more than 20,000 UXO survivors in the country, but we want the NRA committee to make clearer distinctions so that we know, for example, how many had to undergo amputations and how many were blinded, as well as their vocational status.”
As chairman of the meeting, Mr Asang congratulated NRA committee members on their UXO clearance work and victim assistance.
He also advised the committee to build a UXO museum to help future generations better understand the efforts of the Lao people in fighting foreign aggressors during the Indochina War.
“Many Lao people born after the 1970s have little knowledge of the Lao fighters who sacrificed their lives to protect the country during the war,” the deputy PM said.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, NRA Consultant Mr Maliya Sayavong suggested that the authority build more dispensaries in UXO-contaminated areas to help people who fall victim to explosions.
He said the NRA needs to source more funding from international donors in order to open more dispensaries around the country.
Meanwhile, the government is looking to clear about 20,000 hectares of UXO-contaminated land each year.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Alounkeo Kittikhoun said this target is achievable if the government continues to seek new clearance methods.
He cited the Japan Mine Action Service’s use of a Komatsu UXO clearance vehicle for a five-month pilot project in Xieng Khuang province, beginning from January 2, as one such innovation.
“This vehicle takes one hour to clear one hectare of all cluster bombs,” Mr Alounkeo said.
“At present, the Lao National UXO Programme (UXO Lao) employs 22 people to clear one hectare per month, with a clearance capacity of 5,000 hectares per year.”
Until now, almost 30,000 hectares of UXO-contaminated land have been cleared since 1996.
Source: Vientiane Times
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update February 02, 2012)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Laos aiming to speed up UXO clearance

The National Regulatory Authority (NRA) and Lao National Unexploded Programme (UXO Lao) held an annual project review and UXO Trust Fund steering committee meeting in Vientiane yesterday to discuss ways of speeding up UXO clearance.

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Alounkeo Kittikhoun said it is currently possible to clear about four or five thousand hectares of land per year, destroying more than 62,000 unexploded bombs in the process.

“If our clearance capacity reached 5,000 ha per year, we would be able to clear around 50,000 ha in 10 years, but really we need to find ways of finishing upwards of 200,000 hectares over this period,” he said.

“We have invited all staff from the NRA, UXO Lao and donors to this meeting to see if we can identify new ways to speed up UXO clearance in Laos,” Mr Alounkeo said.

He added that if no breakthroughs are to be found, clearance work could take hundreds of years.
“The speed of UXO clearance is dependent on the methods used,” the deputy minister said.
NRA Director Mr Phoukieo Chanthasomboun said 2011 posed several challenges for the authority, but many UXO survivors made great strides with their rehabilitation, including finding meaningful employment.

“However, of the more than 20,000 UXO survivors in the country, only 3,023 have received our help,” he pointed out.

Mr Phoukieo said that in 2011 the NRA was able to track down 92 new UXO accident survivors, but added that this figure was most likely inaccurate due to the difficulty of reporting all incidents.
He said most accident survivors are in need of vocational training and financial support to improve their livelihoods as they come from very poor families.

The NRA’s operations are key to ensuring the implementation of Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 9 to reduce the impact of UXO in Laos in accordance with the National Strategic Plan for the UXO sector known as ‘The Safe Path Forward II’.

This MDG should further function as a multiplier to MDGs 1-7 by providing increased access to assets and services for improved livelihoods.

More than 28,000 hectares of UXO-contaminated land have been cleared since 1996. By 2020 it is hoped that UXO will have been cleared from 200,000 hectares of land.

Source: Vientiane Times
By Khonesavanh Latsaphao
(Latest Update January 24, 2012)