Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Between 1964 and 1973, over two million tons of bombs were dropped on the country – one ton for every person living in Laos at the time. More than 250 million cluster bombs were dropped, but over 30 percent didn’t explode. An estimated 50,000 people have been killed by unexploded bombs, 20,000 since the war ended. Almost half have been children. This deadly legacy continue to threaten the lives of thousands of communities across Laos.
Since 1994, MAG has worked with Lao authorities to find and destroy more than 250,000 unexploded bombs. At the community level, our teams also work to raise awareness of how to recognize, avoid, and report the bombs that are killing people. The message is simple: don’t touch it, don’t move it, and call the hotline.
The data suggests that a minimum of 500,000 acres of land will need to cleared – an area that is nearly twice the size of Houston, Texas.
In 2008, MAG cleared the land in and around a primary school (pictured) in Xieng Khouang province in the northeast of the country. The head of a missile, three unexploded bombs, and a rocket were found in the playground - as well as the 400 bombs that were discovered in the forest behind the school.
Today, a new school building has been constructed and 139 children attend the primary school. Teacher Siphandone Bounma said: “Now the area is safe, the teachers can take the children into the forest to learn about nature. The school also generates income from planting corn and vegetables and we plan to plant coffee next year.”
Because the land has been cleared, children can play outside.
Over 25 years, MAG has been able to declare safe nearly 18,000 acres of land – an area just larger than the island of Manhattan.
To make the land safe, deminers comb every inch with specialized metal detectors. MAG now has more than 900 staff in 54 teams in Laos working day in and day out to get to every bomb before a child does. MAG staff also find and remove hundreds of thousands of cluster munitions, hand grenades, mortars, and rocket propelled grenades throughout the country. Last year, MAG teams helped free almost 30,000 people from the fear of unexploded bombs by clearing their gardens and farms.
In recent years, MAG has committed to increasing the number of female deminers working in country, not just as deminers, but as leaders of teams and in senior management positions. Our training teams are recruiting, teaching, and deploying an increasing proportion of women every year. Manixia (pictured below) is our most senior national staff member in Laos, where she manages over 200 people.
Manixia has been working with MAG since 2007. Step by step she has progressed her career, starting as a technician, then becoming deputy team leader, then supervisor, and now serving as Provincial Operations Manager.
Manixia wants to use her success to inspire other women to break down stereotypes and become leaders in their field. “Have confidence in your ability and be yourself." She recently told a class of female deminers. "Don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
MAG staff also teach risk education classes that help to raise awareness of how to recognize, avoid, and report unexploded bombs. This decreases the likelihood of accidents, particularly among children. Ten years ago, up to 300 people died every year from unexploded bomb accidents throughout the country. Through these MAG-led classes, there is now a widespread understanding of how to avoid these dangerous items. The casualty rates have fallen dramatically as a result, with nine deaths reported in all of 2019. While this is a significant improvement from the past, one fatality is still one too many.
In 2007, MAG cleared Jer Blong Ya’s land in Nonghet Village, Xieng Khouang (pictured below). This allowed him to expand his farm, and he now grows sweetcorn, cucumbers and taro. In 2019 he harvested ten tons of sweetcorn, selling enough to build a new house for himself and his family.
Twenty-five years of working in Laos has taught us so much about how we can serve communities that are recovering from conflict, and we salute the resilience of the people of Laos, who have lived with this contamination for over 40 years. If you are planning to travel to Laos, please visit a MAG visitor center in Vientiane, Xieng Khouang, and Thakhek.
MAG’s work wouldn’t be possible without the support of donors and governments from around the world – particularly the leadership giving of the US, UK, and Norwegian governments. This critical support has allowed MAG to put more teams into the field and speed up the rate of clearance. Together, we can remove deadly devices and free children and their families from the legacy of a conflict that ended nearly half a century ago.