Mar 22 2008
It’s difficult to steer myself away from the usual nonsensical ramblings I fill this blog with, but while traveling in Laos, something important came to our attention that we’d like to share.
File this under things we never learned in American History class: Between 1964 and 1973, the United States sustained one of the largest aerial bombing campaigns in history, to the tune of two million tons of ordnance, and a cost of US$2 million PER DAY… against Laos?
Despite the declaration of Laos’ neutrality under the 1962 Geneva Accords, the North Vietnamese slyly routed their infamous supply road, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, directly through Lao territory. In an effort to cut off Viet Cong provisions, the U.S. responded by blanketing eastern Laos with more bombs than it used WORLDWIDE during WWII.
At that time, the U.S. government denied responsibility for any such involvement in Laos, and largely succeeded in preventing the American population (and the world) from learning about the nine-year bombing campaign until years later. Today, historians appropriately refer to the Lao theatre as “The Secret War.” And the campaign has earned Laos the distinction of being, per capita, the most heavily bombed country in the world.
But the true war against Laos didn’t end with the close of the Vietnam War. 15 of Laos’ 18 provinces were heavily bombed during this nine year period, and somewhere between 10 and 30% of these bombs landed, but never exploded. Bombs or mines that don’t explode properly are called unexploded ordnance (UXO) and Laos knows all about them. Between 1973 and 2004, 5,700 Laotians were killed by UXO. Another 5,600 were injured. A big part of the problem is that the most common type of UXO in Laos is a cluster bomb that, when broken into pieces, resembles colorful balls or toys. Inquisitive children make up a tragic percentage of Laos’ continued annual UXO-related death toll.
Enter MAG. The Mines Advisory Group is a UK-based humanitarian organiziation dedicated to clearing UXO from the world. In their own words…
“MAG moves into current and former conflict zones to clear the remnants of those conflicts, enabling recovery and assisting the development of affected populations. MAG consults with local communities and works to lessen the threat of death and injury, while releasing reclaimed and safe land and other vital resources back to the local population, helping countries to rebuild and develop their social and economic potential.”
MAG (co-laureate of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize) began work in Laos in 1994. Since that time, MAG has worked both privately, and in accordance with the government of LAO P.D.R., to clear Laos of the UXO dropped by the United States. Their efforts are easily visible to travelers today, in the form of a growing number of red posts that mark fields and forests officially “cleared” of UXO. Even better, MAG trains and employs member of the local community in each of its UXO-cleaning efforts.
I think we’ve managed to use this blog for just about everything except proselytizing so far, so let’s change that trend. We really believe in what MAG is doing in Laos, and around the world. If you’re interested in learning more about MAG’s efforts, including how you can help from your desk chair, we encourage you to check out the following links. And we promise, a return to the inane and irreverent is nigh.