by Zhang Jianhua
VIENTIANE, April 7 (Xinhua) -- Three big bombs each weighing more than 113 kilograms have been found over the past two weeks in Lao's northern Luang Prabang province.
One was found and reported to the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Program (UXO Lao) team in the province by villagers from the Houay Lo in Pak-Ou district. The two other bombs were found and reported by construction companies while they were working on road projects in Phone Ngarm and Kok Muang villages in the Luang Prabang district, Lao state-run news agency KPL said Thursday.
In 2016, three large bombs were previously found in the northern province. A total of 100,434 unexploded ordinances (UXO) were found and destroyed across the Southeast Asian country last year.
Laos is deemed the worst UXO-affected country in the world, with UXOs scattered over one-third of the country, according to a 1996 survey by Handicap International.
Statistics show that over the past four decades since the war ended in 1975, UXOs have killed and maimed tens of thousands of civilians in Laos.
"I have heard that Laos is one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world, which makes life difficult for a large number of people," Bountang Fasanong, an employee in Lao's capital of Vientiane said.
"Each year people die or are injured and disabled in UXO-related accidents, including children. When there's an accident it has a huge impact on the victim's family. It brings great sadness and means that later on people struggle to survive," he added.
"Disablement or death means that the victim's family loses a loved one and an able-bodied worker. The family also has more responsibilities in caring for an injured or disabled person," Bountang Fasanong said.
Talking about measures to deal with UXO and reduce its impact on his country, the young man said that there should be more publicity about the dangerous impact of UXO and awareness-raising among people living in at-risk areas.
Similarly, Ms. Vee Keopaserth, a resident in Vientiane said the organizations concerned along with the authorities should educate local people as much as possible about the risks, dangers, and impact of UXO and continue to campaign about UXO in heavily affected areas.
"They need to be more aware of the risks and understand that they must not be careless. There should be plenty of information on this issue and lessons taught about how to avoid UXO and stay safe so that people know how to protect themselves," she said.
"Schools in at-risk areas should educate their students about UXO and teachers should give them instructions and remind them of the dangers posed. Children are often victims because they don't understand the dangers, so they need to be taught more about the issue. They should be taught what bombs look like and what to do," Vee emphasized.
In late March, a buried bomb exploded in the Paek district in the northern Xieng Khuang province, killing one child and injuring five adults and seven other children.
The tragedy happened at the home of a family in Nhotngeum village where relatives and children had gathered for a traditional ceremony.
The relatives were helping the host to prepare food and the children were playing in the front yard when the bomb exploded. It is thought the bomb might have exploded due to the vibrations given off as the children played a rope jumping game. The tragic accident is the first to occur in the province this year.
"We all know that people who live in at-risk areas are unhappy because they live in fear of an unforeseeable accident. They live close to danger and death and need help with the clearance of UXO so they can live without danger," Ms. Orn, a resident of Lao's central Savannakhet province said, sharing her sympathy for the families of victims.
"The authorities should help the victims quickly when there's an accident. All organizations and the general public should be ready to help victims when there's an unexpected incident. And of course, people living in high-risk areas should be careful and try to avoid UXO," she added.
According to Lao Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, Khampheng Saysompheng, the number of unexploded ordinance (UXO) victims in Laos reportedly declined from 300 in 2008 to 50 in 2016.
Speaking at the International Day of Mine Awareness commemoration ceremony held in Vientiane this week, the minister said the achievements came from more than two decades of efforts to solve UXO problems during which more than 60,000 hectares have been cleared of UXO, and almost two million UXO have been destroyed.
In addition, more than 3,000 UXO victims reportedly survived explosions, thanks to medical assistance. In 2016, over 95,000 UXO were cleared from an additional 3,400 hectares of land.
"It's good that the government works with international organizations to clear UXO, and the number of accidents has dropped in recent years. This work should be stepped up, and Laos needs help with funding and equipment. International organizations could do more to help," said Ms. Panoy, a resident in Lao's northern Xayabouly province.
A recent survey revealed that the Lao government needs more than 470 billion Lao kip (nearly 57.8 million U.S. dollars) for UXO clearance efforts planned for the next five years. The current nationwide confirmed hazardous area (CHA) is 29,000 hectares.
There are 108 operational UXO clearance teams in the country and each team can clear 41 hectares of UXO per year. Planned UXO clearance efforts have been approved by the government for the 2016-2020 period for 20 national development priority areas, 71 local development priority areas, 145 settlement areas, and 213 large communities.