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Q&A: Lasting effects of war-time weapons

Explosive weapons
Laos Ukraine

Gary Toombs, Humanity & Inclusion's Global Land Release/Armed Violence Reduction Technical Operations Manager, explains the effects of explosive ordnances even decades after conflict subsides. 

Demining operation in Laos.

Demining operation in the Houaphan province of Laos. | N. Lozano Juez / HI

This spring marked 50 years since the end of the Vietnam War and one year of conflict in Ukraine. Comparing these two conflicts, Gary Toombs, Humanity & Inclusion’s Global Land Release/Armed Violence Reduction Technical Operations Manager, explains the immediate and long-term threats posed to civilians by explosive ordnance. 

Q: 50 years after the U.S. withdrew troops from the Vietnam War, Laos still remains heavily contaminated by over 186 types of munitions. How does this history of conflict present itself today?  

A: Laos, per capita, is the most heavily bombed country in the world. More than 580,000 bombing missions, which translates into one mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for 9 years, led to over 2 million tons of explosive ordnance being dropped. 270 million cluster munitions were used, of which an estimated 80 million failed to function as designed and remain active today. Approximately 25% of Laos' villages are contaminated.  

Since 1964, 50,754 casualties have been noted. In 2021, 31 accidents were recorded, in which 44 people were injured and 11 died.  

What are HI’s initiatives in Laos?  

Laos is a beautiful country with hidden dangers. Our teams are locating and destroying explosive ordnances almost every day - working extremely hard in very arduous and demanding conditions.  

HI’s approach includes land release; community consultations; raising risk awareness; providing victim assistance via medical care, physical therapy, psychosocial support services and socio-economic services; and identifying and supporting persons with disabilities. 

As for challenges, funding in the obvious one to mention and the remoteness, environment and topography of the region makes clearance particularly difficult. 

What is happening in Ukraine as it relates to explosive ordnances?  

There are conflicting reports of exactly how many civilians have been killed and injured. Estimates range from 7,031 to 13,188 killed and about 11,327 injured. More than 25,500 incidents involving explosive ordnance have been recorded. 

Nearly 7% of Ukraine’s housing has been destroyed, leaving millions homeless. Other impacted infrastructure includes bridges, cars, farm equipment, shops, churches and schools. 

What can we expect to see in Ukraine 50 years from now? How is HI trying to prevent what we see today in Laos from happening in Ukraine?  

Based on the level of reported contamination already and previous conflicts globally, in all probability, Ukraine will still be affected by explosive ordnances. 

HI was one of the first organizations to mobilize in Ukraine. We deliver victim assistance through our partnership with Atlas Logistics, educate the population on the hazards of explosive ordnances and promote safe behaviors. 

Date published: 03/06/23


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