Lao women work to clear millions of unexploded bombs | Asia Pacific

Lao women work to clear millions of unexploded bombs

Lao women work to clear millions of unexploded bombs

Updated 17 July 2014, 17:36 AEST

A brave group of women is taking on the enormous task of finding and destroying millions of unexploded bombs in Laos.

The country has the terrible distinction of being the most heavily bombed nation - per head - in the world.

The United States dropped more than 260-million cluster bomblets on Laos during the Vietnam War.

Correspondent: Sally Sara

Speakers: Phou Vong, Mines Advisory Group; Colette McInerney, World Education Laos

SALLY SARA: The women from the bomb clearing team use loud speakers to warn the locals there is about to be an explosion.

(Woman speaking on loudspeaker)

(Sound of explosion)

These women are on the frontline of a campaign to clear up to 80 million unexploded bombs in Laos.

Their metal detectors make a buzzing sound each time they find something.

(Sound of a metal detector buzzing)

Forty-six year old Phou Vong is a member of the Mines Advisory Group team working in the Lao province of Xieng Khouang.

She says she will never forget the first time she found a bomb.

PHOU VONG (translated): I was excited as well as frightened. I hesitated a bit, but I thought I should be glad to see it, because in a sense I was helping my people.

SALLY SARA: The United States bombarded Laos during the Vietnam War, to cut off supply routes for the Viet Cong.

It was the equivalent of one bombing mission every eight minutes for nine years.

Many of the munitions were cluster bombs, large cases full of hundreds of smaller bombs.

Clearance worker Phou Vong says the US should do more to help clean up the deadly legacy it's left behind.

PHOU VONG (translated): Well, if we want to clear these bombs, I would like them to support more than what they have done so far. This is not enough because there are really a lot of bombs.

SALLY SARA: More than four decades after the end of the war, the bombs are still taking lives and limbs.

(Children singing)

It sounds like a nursery rhyme but the local children are learning a song that could save their lives.

They are warned not to touch the small cluster bombs, nicknamed bombies.

(Woman speaking)

The small tennis ball size bombs can detonate at any time.

Australian aid worker Colette McInerney from World Education Laos says some victims lose hope.

COLETTE MCINERNEY: It can be very, very traumatic and people can go inside themselves, they don't want to talk to anyone about it. A lot of cases there are suicidal thoughts.

SALLY SARA: More than 20,000 people have been killed or injured by cluster bombs in Laos, since the war ended.

No one really knows how much time or money will be needed to destroy all the unexploded ordinance contaminating the Lao countryside. It could be a task that takes several generations.


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