An official at the Handicap organization in Laos says Lao children are increasingly at risk of being endangered by unexploded ordnances (UXO) as they are lured to collect metal scraps underneath the grounds for money.
The coordinator for Handicap says the issue is now most troubling because more and more Lao children are forced to look for metal scraps left from the Indochinese War, making them increasingly vulnerable to unexploded ordnances, because the detectors many children use to detect signals from metals buried under the grounds cannot differentiate between scrap metal and unexploded bombs. If what they detect is real scrap metals, they are lucky. But if they find unexploded bombs instead, it certainly means that their lives and body are at risk of facing accidence or death, which will affect their families both emotionally and financially as the families have to spend a lot of money in treating them.
According to the report by the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme, or UXO-Lao, from 1996 to the end 2008, several thousand Lao people have been affected and victimized by UXOs and hundreds have lost their lives. The victims include more than 830 children who lost their lives or limbs during their searches for scrap metals. And the reason for their dangerous occupation is, of course, poverty. As Lao people are experiencing severe economic hardship, just like citizens of other countries, because of the current global economic slump, more and more Lao children in rural areas are forced to search for and collect more scrap metals so that they can sell to get money for their families.
According to a UXO-Lao assessment, currently there are over 270 million ordnances left on Laos' soil, and at least 30% of them are unexploded bombs, which can endanger Lao people's lives and bodies any time they come in contact with those bombs.
Since its establishment in 1996, UXO-Lao has recovered and destroyed over 800,000 unexploded bombs, and have reclaimed over 13,000 hectares of the UXO affected land areas; however, this proportion is less than 1% of the total land areas affected by UXOs. It is estimated that, at its current ability level, UXO-Lao will take over a century to recover all the unexploded bombs left on Laos' soil. And Lao authorities attribute that to the limited assistance they have received from foreign countries.
Songrith PonNgeun reported from Bangkok. (English translation by Buasawan Simmala and Dara Baccam).
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