Australian parliamentary delegation briefed on UXO (AUSTRALIA)
An Australian parliamentary delegation visiting Vientiane for the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organisation (AIPO) meeting has heard how unexploded ordnance continues to kill and maim civilians in Laos.
Wanthong Khamdala, Deputy National Program Director of UXO Lao, told the delegation that of the 74 UXO-related accidents recorded in the first 6 months of 2005, nearly two-thirds of the 124 victims were children. It is estimated that 5,700 people have been killed and a further 5,600 injured as a consequence of mines and UXO since the mid 1970s.
The delegation was told that Laos was the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world, with over 30 per cent of all agricultural land across 15 provinces still affected by severe UXO contamination. The result was a strong link between UXO and poverty, with some of the most heavily contaminated areas in the country also among the poorest.
A recent disturbing trend has been an increase the deliberate handling of UXO. With high prices for scrap metal, particularly in Vietnam, poor and vulnerable villagers were actively seeking out UXO to supplement their income, despite the known risks.
Mr Wanthong was speaking at an exhibition at the Australian Embassy, which includes displays by UXO Lao, Handicap International, Milsearch and Fondation de Suisse Deminage.
Australia is a leading advocate for international mine action, through mine clearance, mine awareness, victim assistance, stockpile destruction activities and compliance with the Ottawa landmines convention.
In July, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer pledged a further AUD 75 million (USD 57.6 million) over five years for de-mining activities worldwide, after witnessing the UXO exhibition at the Australian Embassy.
This is in addition to the AUD 100 million Australia has spent on mine action over the past decade. Part of the new money will go to clearing UXO in Laos.
So far this year Australia has agreed to provide AUD 480,000 to community-based UXO clearance, to be delivered by Fondationde Suisse Deminage (FSD) with the United Nations' World Food Program.
As part of the programme, local people will be recruited, trained and employed in clearing UXO in heavily contaminated areas of the southern provinces.
By the end of 2005, Australia will have provided approximately AUD 9 million on UXO activities in Laos since 1996, focussing on UXO clearance, education, and survivor assistance. Recent examples include funding for UNICEF 'Sport in a Box' UXO safety activities for children, and supporting clearance operations by UXO Lao in Savannakhet province.
Von: 22 September 2005, KPL- OANA