Laos: 'My Son Lost His Life At The Age Of 12' - The Continuing Threat Of UXO's In Laos

During the Vietnam War, Laos was struck with more than 2 million tons of explosives.  More than 30% of these explosives have failed to detonate and continue to be found in many places such as villages, mountains, and fields. Although the war has ended, the number of people who have been involved in UXO-related accidents has risen to over 20,000. In 2011 alone, there were 79 casualties and 20 deaths ― and possibly more have gone unreported.

More than half of the victims are children, innocent bystanders in war. AAR is currently undertaking anti-UXO action in the Xieng Khouang Province, an area in Northern Laos that is prone to many such accidents. The following is a report on the dangerous aspects of everyday life for the Xieng Khouang's residents, written by Natsuki Matsumoto from our Tokyo PR office, who visited Laos in November 2012.

'Accidents In Our Local Fields'

November 13 2012-Bian speaking of the sadness of losing her son. Her youngest daughter was born just before the accident (Phookood District, Xieng Khouang Province)

"My son often helped with the housework, he was a really kind boy. Even after he was taken from me, I still think of him everyday and grieve." Bian, the mother of 12-year old Siviengphone who died from an UXO-related accident, fought back tears while telling us her story in her home. The accident occurred in June of last year while Siviengphone was on his way towards grazing fields to feed the family cattle, roughly 1km away from the village. For him, this was a route he travelled everyday. After news of the accident had reached his parents, they rushed to the scene; however, by that time, Siviengphone was already dead.

The UXO that Siviengphone had encountered was a model named 'BLU26', roughly the size of a tennis ball. The circumstances of the accident are still unclear and Bian is unsure whether Siviengphone's accident was caused by him stepping on it by mistake, trying to carry it to some place else, or simply just playing with it.

Bian showed us a picture of her son Siviengphone, aged 12

The place of Siviengphone's accident
(On the far left is Xieng Khouang office worker Noriko Andou. 2nd from the left is local worker Tonroh)

Dangers Hidden in Everyday Life

9 November 2012-At one house we visited, cluster bombs were piled next to a children's play area (Pek District, Xieng Khouang Province)

UXO-related accidents are occurring in places visited everyday by local residents. There have been reports of UXOs explosion on the street when they caught fire from nearby burning waste in the yard or when they were struck by tools on farms.
While visiting another house during our trip, we were advised to "Make sure not to go into that area because it hasn't been cleared and it’s dangerous." As we were frightened by the possibility that a UXO could be just yards away, we were also surprised by just how calmly we were warned, as though this was said in everyday conversation. Through this, I have come to realize how dangerous the daily life of Xieng Khouang's residents is.

Tackling Urgent Issues Immediately
The government of Laos has been cooperating with international groups and foundations to tackle the issue of UXOs. However, Laos is said to still have 87,000 square kilometres of land (37% of total land area) that have not been surveyed. For the people of Laos, the war is not over. In villages located far from hospitals, immediate post-accident treatment is not readily available and results in a large number of lives lost due to excessive loss of blood. The knowledge of how to avoid UXOs as well as first-aid relief of victims can be lifesaving. Since establishing an office in the Xieng Khouang Province, AAR has been training healthcare providers and residents in first-aid relief and educating them on the dangers and types of UXOs. For the people of Xieng Khouang, UXOs are very much a part of today's reality and remain an urgent problem requiring immediate action.

14 November 2012 -'I want to make the best use of my knowledge and help save lives’' ― participants actively undertake emergency first-aid training to becomehealth care volunteers in seminars conducted by AAR.  On the left is Noriko ANDO, who is a registered nurse

November 14 2012-The training consisted of role playing scenarios in which they practiced treating various injuries, applying bandages, and how to stop bleeding

This was truly an eye-opening visit, and I keenly realized the importance of support that can help to protect innocent lives from the danger of UXOs.

Tokyo Office Natsuki MATSUMOTO [Reporter]
In charge of PR at the Tokyo Headquarters Office since April 2012.
Graduated from university and progressed to graduate school, while working with the UN as an intern. Joined AAR after graduating from MA course. (Profile at a time of publication)