Houaphan, near Vietnam, was the province that had the highest number of accidents involving explosive remnants of war in Laos in 2018. In the village of Houayhou, some residents like Chue Por Vang, a 30-year-old Hmong farmer, and Kua Tcho Tor, 58, have paid a heavy price.
When he was a teenager, Chue's left arm was blown off by a submunition on his way home from school. He was walking with his brother when he came across a device that piqued his curiosity. "It was a very small object, round,” Chue says. “It looked like a small ball...”
After the accident, his family ran up debts to pay for his hospital treatment, which took five years to pay off. Today, Chue is married and has four children. He is outraged by the presence of unexploded ordnance buried deep in his homeland. "I'm angry," Chue says shyly. "My wife is the only one who can work the land, take care of our 14 cows, and do everything at home. I help as much as I can, but we depend on the land, and we struggle to feed our children. Our family helps us a lot, but our lives are very hard."
In the same village, Kua Tcho Tor, a 58-year-old farmer, and father of six, also lost his hand at the age of 12 when a "bomblet," a submunition, exploded as he was helping his parents to plant rice. Rushed to the nearest hospital, he only has a dim recollection of what happened next, but he does remember his family having to sell many of their cows to pay for his hospital treatment. "It was the end of the Vietnam War, but we didn't know anything about bombs and mines at the time. We weren't very wary," he explains.
"My life has been very hard. No one helped me except my close family. Today three of my children are already married. Without my family and my son, who does everything on the farm and takes care of us, life wouldn't be worth living. I'm very proud of him!"
Humanity & Inclusion in Laos
Since 1983, Humanity & Inclusion has helped victims of mines and explosive remnants of war in Laos. Our mine action team works to remove mines and educate communities about the risks posed by these weapons. Learn more about our work in Laos.
Support our work
Your gift today could help our demining teams to clear land of landmines and cluster bombs, saving the lives and limbs of innocent civilians.
In Laos, Humanity & Inclusion continues its interventions to eliminate the threat and reduce the humanitarian and socio-economic risk that the explosive remnants of war still pose to the country's populations today. Nearly 45 years after the end of the Vietnam War and the American bombings, Laos remains the most contaminated country in the world by unexploded war explosives. Buried in forests and cultivated fields, they constitute both a direct threat to the population, mainly rural, and an obstacle to the development.
Eliminating the threat of weapons
Since 2006, Humanity & Inclusion’s demining teams have cleared more than 43 million sq. ft. of land and destroyed nearly 30,000 explosive remnants of war—that’s 30,000 lives potentially saved. Our main objective is to secure areas of human activity, such as villages and agricultural land and keep people safe.
Saving lives and making the village safe
In Houaphan province, where our teams have been working since early 2018, thousands of square feet of land still need to be cleared to eliminate the threat. HI has identified 379 villages contaminated with unexploded explosive remnants of war. This includes aviation bombs and cluster bombs, commonly referred to as "bombies" on site. Teams also find many other types of explosive remnants such as grenades, mortars, rockets, missiles, and even landmines. Each of these devices requires a different technique for detection and destruction. And, unusual in Laos which is almost unpolluted by these weapons, the team has also identified 26 minefields that directly affect 12 villages in Houameung district. Such demining operations require a completely different technique, which is even more meticulous because it involves advancing inch-by-inch, and dangerous because landmines explode at the slightest pressure.
In 2019, during the first 10 months of the year, Humanity & Inclusion teams of 73 deminers found and destroyed nearly 2,000 explosive remnants of war and cleared 32 acres of agricultural land.
In addition to our clearance work and protecting Laotians from the risk of these weapons, we also provide livelihood support activities so that people with disabilities have the opportunity to work meaningful, waged jobs. Initially conducted in Savannakhet province, HI teams are now continuing their activities in Houaphan, a mountainous province in the north of the country.
Our new video series, "Hi from the field," comes direct to you from our field staff. Learn why our mine action team is planting trees after clearing weapons in Colombia. Step inside a rehabilitation center in Bolivia, where our donors ensure that children with disabilities can thrive.
Watch and share!
Meet Erika Romero, Humanity & Inclusion's demining area manager in Colombia and learn why our mine action team is planting trees in places where they've cleared weapons.
Take a step inside an inclusive classroom for children with visual disabilities in Niger and watch as these incredible children learn how to read and write in Braille.
When villagers in Laos found unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from war, they immediately reached out to Humanity & Inclusion's mine action team to help remove them. Watch our deminers in action.
While visiting Humanity & Inclusion in Chad, Gilles Lordet from HQ met up with our demining team. There, he followed their every step and got to see the SAG200 (like a HUGE combine tractor) in action!
Valérie Beauchemin, HI's country director for the Andean States, visits a rehabilitation center where our team conducts physical therapy sessions for children ages 0-3 in Caracollo, Bolivia. Join the tour and meet sweet kiddos, Ruban and Nicolas!
Lumngen was only a child when her father was injured by a cluster munition while planting in his field in Laos. "He eventually healed and went on to live for many years," she explains. “However, I will never forget what he suffered. My dad’s experience gave me the power to decide to become a deminer."
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos—up to 30% of them failed to explode on impact. Decades after the conflict, Lumngen and other deminers still risk their lives every day to clear the land.
"I’m so proud of my profession, because through my job, people can be safe," she says. "They won’t lose their arms and legs. They won’t lose their lives."
Thanks to deminers like Lumngen, hundreds of areas have been made safe for farming, building schools, clinics and roads, and expanding villages in Laos.
You can watch Earth’s Natural Wonders Episode 3, "Surviving Against The Odds" on the PBS website until Aug. 23, 2018. The part of the episode featuring HI's team begins at minute 11.
Please share the information with your friends and family: http://www.pbs.org/program/earths-natural-wonders/
Support our work
Your gift today could help our demining teams to clear land of landmines and cluster bombs, saving the lives and limbs of innocent civilians.
More than 50 years after the US Air Force dropped its first bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War, it remains the country most heavily polluted by cluster munition remnants, which have killed and maimed more than 50,000 people since 1964. Since 2006, HI has cleared more than 37.5 million sq. ft. of land and destroyed some 24,000 explosive remnants of war in Laos. We also raise public awareness of the dangers from these weapons and sub-munitions through risk education.
Dedication to clearing the land
Humanity & Inclusion’s dedicated deminers like Lumngen risk their lives every day to make the land and the people safe. Lumngen, a mother of two, explains what her job involves and what motivates her to do this challenging work. "I am a deminer because I want to make people in Laos safe. One day when I was young, my dad went to plant his fields. He was using a hoe to make lanes in the ground where he could plant rice. While doing this, he struck the ground with his hoe and hit a cluster munition."
The field was close to our house, and my mother heard the explosion. She ran out to see what happened and found my father laying on the ground covered in blood. His face was torn open and his tongue was hanging out. He was trying to pick pieces of shrapnel out of his mouth."
My neighbor helped my mom bring him to the hospital. He was in a lot of pain. One night he was wailing like he was being tortured. He told us, 'Please shoot me, I want to die.' He eventually healed and went on to live for many years. He died of an illness in 2015. However, I will never forget what he suffered. My dad’s experience gave me the power to decide to become a deminer."
A day in the life of a deminer
I started as a deminer and now, I'm a section commander. There are six people on my technical survey team. Our objective is to find evidence of cluster munitions on or under the ground. When we start in a new area, we mark the center of a 50x50 square meter box at the evidence point where a cluster munition has been identified with a stick. The team members mark six equal segments from the center of the box to the edges. Then, each deminer sweeps a percentage of their segment from the outside to the center, looking for further evidence of munitions."
The terrain makes the work challenging. We have to dig through the vegetation and dirt to find the evidence. If we find something, we mark it with a colored stake. And then I, the section commander, enter the location into the GPS and record the time and date we found it. When all the team members finish their box, we move on and create a new box adjacent to that box."
At the end of the day, I inform our team leader that we have bombs to destroy. A roving team comes by later that day to destroy the UXO we found. From the boxes, we can then draw a map of the contaminated area which will later be fully cleared. I would like to tell people that before they farm, please inform me first. I don’t want what happened to my father to happen to them."
Clearing land and saving lives
I’m so proud of my profession, because through my job, people can be safe. They won’t lose their arms and legs. They won’t lose their lives."
Thanks to deminers like Lumngen, hundreds of clearance areas have been made safe for farming, building schools, clinics and roads, and expanding villages in Laos. Support from Humanity & Inclusion donors make this work possible.
Two decades ago, the adoption of the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty marked an unprecedented diplomatic victory against these cowardly weapons. The treaty led to a fall in casualty numbers, the destruction of millions of mines, and a virtual end to their use. Since 2014, however, the use of mines has increased in many current conflicts, with a resulting rise in casualty numbers.Read more
This blog was originally posted in January 2015.Read more
August 31, 2017--The newest annual report on cluster munitions reveals a sharp rise in the number of new casualties of cluster munitions, which more than doubled between 2015 and 2016. Cluster Munition Monitor 2017, co-produced by Handicap International, officially records 971 casualties of cluster munitions in 2016 compared to 419 in 2015. Handicap International calls on States to comply with international law, and to pressure belligerent parties to end the use of this barbaric weapon.
The report finds that 98% of victims of cluster munitions were civilians in 2016, and 41% were children. The conflicts in Syria and Yemen are among the most hazardous in the world for civilians, according to the Monitor.
“In Syria, the use of these weapons shows that the belligerents have a total disregard for civilian lives, and in some cases a deliberate intention to target them,” says Jeff Meer, executive director of Handicap International in the U.S. “Those who survive contact with cluster munition explosions often become amputees, with significant social, economic and psychological consequences for them, their families and their communities.”
Cluster munition usage has been on the rise in Syria since mid-2012. The Syrian conflict alone accounted for 89% of the world’s cluster munition casualties in 2016, that is, 860 victims out of 971. There were 51 new casualties in Laos and 38 in Yemen.
Whereas the vast majority of new casualties were injured or killed in cluster munition attacks, there were 114 casualties of sub-munition remnants in 2016. Because up to 40% of these weapons do not explode on impact, sub-munitions become as dangerous as anti-personnel mines and make entire areas uninhabitable after conflict. Half of accidents reported in 2016 were in Laos, the country most heavily polluted by sub-munitions in the world.
A total of six States and one territory were affected by the use of cluster munitions since January 2015. In addition to Syria and Yemen, the use of cluster munitions was once again reported in the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, the subject of a dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and in Somalia in 2016, and Ukraine, Sudan and Libya in early 2015. According to reliable but unconfirmed reports, cluster munitions appear to have been used in Libya and Iraq in 2016 and early 2017.
Handicap International is alarmed by the widespread and uncontrolled use of these banned weapons. “War has rules and the Oslo Convention is part of that,” Meer says. “Every effort must be made to ensure it is enforced and to end the use of this barbaric weapon in conflict situations. States must ratify, defend, and apply the Oslo Convention, and the Ottawa Mine Ban Convention, and other provisions under International Humanitarian Law.”
Around the world, 26 States and three territories remain contaminated by cluster munition remnants. In 2016, nearly 34 sq. miles of land was cleared and 140,000 sub-munitions were made safe and destroyed. In addition to clearing mines, cluster munitions, and explosive remnants of war, Handicap International calls on States to support risk education and victim assistance programs that are also essential for continuing this vital work.
Handicap International calls on belligerent parties - States and non-State armed groups - to immediately end the use of cluster munitions. Handicap International also calls on States to pressure their allies using cluster munitions to end this practice. Lastly, Handicap International calls on all States to enforce the Convention on Cluster Munitions by immediately ending the sale or transfer of these weapons.
The Cluster Munition Monitor 2017 reviews every country in the world, including those not party to the Convention with respect to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of cluster munitions, during the period from January 2016 to July 2017.
- Experts available for comment in Washington, DC, and Europe.
- Handicap International advocates will attend the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Geneva, Switzerland from September 4–6, 2017, and are available for comment throughout the conference.
Cluster bombs are weapons containing several hundred mini-bombs called cluster munitions. Designed to be scattered over large areas, they inevitably fall in civilian areas. Up to 30% (or even 40%) do not explode on impact. Like anti-personnel mines, they can be triggered at the slightest contact, killing and maiming people during and after conflicts. By indiscriminately affecting civilian and military targets, cluster munitions violate international humanitarian law.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions banning the use, production, transfer, stockpiling and sale of cluster munitions was opened for signature in December 2008. There are currently 119 State signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
About Handicap International
Handicap International is an independent international aid organization, taking action and campaigning in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 35 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our action and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since its founding in 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and the winner of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, the world’s largest prize for humanitarians.
Ninety-eight percent of recorded victims of cluster munitions are civilians, according to the Cluster Munition Monitor 2017, an annual report co-produced by Handicap International. These weapons kill, injure, maim, and cause serious psychological trauma. Up to 40% of submunitions do not explode on impact. They render whole areas uninhabitable, prevent the return of normal social and economic life, and displace people from their homes. These explosive remnants pose a threat to civilians, sometimes for decades after a conflict has ended.Read more
Every year, about 1.27 million people are killed in road crashes and more than 20 million people are seriously injured worldwide. On Global Road Safety Week, May 8-17, the United General Assembly addresses a key risk factor for road traffic deaths and injuries: Speed. Speed contributes to around one-third of all fatal road traffic crashes in high-income countries, and up to half in low- and middle-income countries.
Road accidents are the lead cause of death among 15- to 25-year-olds and more than 90% of deaths occur in in low- and middle-income countries. As more people are able to buy cars and motorcycles in the developing world, the rate of road accidents is increasing and the resulting deaths, physical disabilities, and psychological distress are creating a tremendous negative economic impact on victims, their families, and society in general.
The fourth UN Global Road Safety Week seeks to increase understanding of the dangers of speed and generate action on measures to address speed, thereby saving lives on the roads. It is a unique opportunity to contribute to the achievement of the road safety-related Sustainable Development Goal targets 3.6 and 11.2, to reduce road traffic deaths and injuries by 50% by 2020. During this week, multiple actions will be launched through the ongoing campaign: Save Lives – #SlowDown.
Countries successfully reducing road traffic deaths have done so by prioritizing safety when managing speed. Among the proven strategies to address speed include:
- Building or modifying roads to include features that calm traffic
- Establishing speed limits to the function of each road
- Enforcing speed limits
- Installing in-vehicle technologies
- Raising awareness about the dangers of speeding
Handicap International and Road Safety
Handicap International is currently one of only a few international NGOs fighting to put road safety on the development agenda and advocating for safety measures to protect vulnerable road users. The organization currently implements road safety programs designed to reduce the number of accidents and assist victims in Benin, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Laos, and Vietnam. Staff members collect and analyze data on road crashes; provide support and training to local NGOs, transportation specialists, police, and teachers; run awareness campaigns; and provide first aid at the scene of crashes. Learn more.
The #SlowDown campaign operates on the principles of the Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011-2020. On May 11, 2011, dozens of countries around the world kicked off the first global Decade of Action. From New Zealand to Mexico and the Russian Federation to South Africa, governments committed to taking new steps to save lives on their roads. The Decade of Action seeks to prevent road traffic deaths and injuries which experts project will take the lives of 1.9 million people annually by 2020.
The Global Plan for the Decade of Action outlines steps towards improving the safety of roads and vehicles; enhancing emergency services; and building up road safety management generally. It also calls for increased legislation and enforcement on speeding.Read more