On 15/7/14 the ABC Foreign Correspondent programme, presented by Sally Sara, was about the legacy of the bombs left by the USA bombing of Laos at the end of the Vietnam war.
Laos has the unenviable title of being the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. 2 million tons of bombs were dropped on the country, in an attempt to prevent the Viet Cong from accessing supplies by way of the Ho Chi Min Trail.
Even though the country side looks peaceful, it is highly contaminated with unexploded bombs, cluster bombs, which are about the size of a tennis ball and are very hard to see, but just as dangerous 40 years after the end of the war.
30% of the bombs (80 million) dropped during the war didn’t explode and now communities are living with these “bombies” hidden in the land which they need to farm for their existence.
A group of Laos women are working tirelessly to try and find and destroy any unexploded bombs. They are part of a Bomb Hunting Team, who work away from home and their families for three weeks at a time, to find the “bombies”. They are paid $250 a month for their work.
It is interesting that the USA is not a signatory to the International Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs, and that even though they are providing $12 a year to help rid Laos of the bombs, every year groups have to lobby for these funds.
40% of those killed or injured by the bombs are children and the children are mostly boys as they hunt for the bombs to sell for scrap metal.
In school songs and puppets are being used to educate children not to pick up the “bombies” and since 2010 the number of those killed or injured has dropped 300 to less than 50.
For those who survive the bombs it is a long and painful process of healing. It can take eight weeks to walk again. Many families make their own prostheses for injured family members but these can often cause more pain for the victim.
It costs $75 for a leg prosthesis and they only last two years. The Rehab Centres are funded by the Laos Government and foreign donors.
As of 2014 less than 2% of contaminated land has been cleared and only 4% of the country is suitable for farming.
The most surprising fact is that there is little animosity towards the USA for the devastation caused. The people of Laos just want to get on with living.