25 years ago, MAG began operations in Laos, the most heavily bombed country in the world. More than 250 million cluster bombs were dropped throughout the country between 1964 and 1973. While conflict may have ended over 40 years ago, these bombs continue to kill and injure civilians, and hinder development in a country desperate to rebuild.
This month marks the ninth anniversary of the international ban on cluster bombs, yet there is much work to be done to make the country safe. It is estimated that nearly one-third of the 250 million bombs dropped on Laos failed to detonate on impact. These devices represent a persistent threat - and a daily reality - for thousands of communities. To date, more than 20,000 people have been killed or injured by these unexploded bombs.
MAG is currently taking part in a nationwide survey to provide an estimate of the amount of contamination that remains throughout the country. Laos is roughly half the size of the state of California, and yet the data suggests that over 700 square miles of land will need to cleared - an area larger than the entire San Diego region. By identifying exactly where the unexploded bombs are, MAG can make clearance efforts more streamlined and effective.
Over the past 25 years, MAG has found and destroyed 250,000 unexploded bombs and remnants of conflict across 17,000 acres of land and surveyed an additional 75,000 acres. This work has been made possible largely due to the leadership funding of the governments of United States and the United Kingdom. These funds have allowed MAG to employ more than 600 people in Laos and clear more land than ever before. Last year alone, MAG teams helped free nearly 30,000 people from the fear of unexploded bombs.
MAG staff also provide risk education classes to help raise awareness of the risks associated with unexploded bombs and to promote safe behavior - decreasing the likelihood of accidents among affected communities. MAG’s program is designed to be gender and age-appropriate, context-specific and to address the varying risk-taking behaviors that lead to accidents. Songs and games are used with children, and lessons are modified for any literacy level. Think of how you first learned to "stop, drop, and roll" in case of a fire - MAG teams take best practices in avoiding unexploded bombs and make them understandable for everyone in the community.
MAG also runs a reporting hotline, so people can report bombs discovered in their communities and receive an immediate response. Every item reported is destroyed within 24 hours and priority is given to those that present an immediate threat to life, such as in school playgrounds or gardens.
Laos has a goal to eliminate all deaths from unexploded bombs by 2030. The Laotian government is currently working on a new strategic plan to achieve this goal - but it is clear that a continued investment is needed if we are ever to free communities from the deadly legacy of a conflict that ended nearly half a century ago. Please join us in our pledge to save lives and build safer futures in Laos: donate to MAG today.