Laos casualties from Vietnam War unexploded ordnance

During the Vietnam War of 1955-1975, Laos was, along with Vietnam and Cambodia, hit hard by the constant bombardment of fighting and bombing.

Records state that Laos is the country bombed most heavily by population. The US released more than two million tonnes of bombs during 600,000 missions over the country.

Unfortunately a lot of the bombs never exploded, and still to this day remain unexploded and a threat to the Lao population. The country says that around a third of the bombs did not detonate, and as a result some 100 people are killed by unexploded ordnance in Laos every year.

The amount of bombs dropped on Laos mean that it was bombed more heavily than Europe during World War Two.

Rural Laos is littered with unexploded ordnance from bombs and shells to grenades and land mines. The clearing effort is still underway by the Lao government and several international organisations.

The unexploded ordnance is removed through controlled detonation and the task is undertaken every day of the year. The teams operating in the country have said that the most difficult to eradicate is the small cluster bomblets, which are the size of a tennis ball and make up around 90% of the unexploded ordnance found in Laos. Other ordnance includes surface ammunition and bombs dropped by aircraft.

The Lao government says that there is almost 90,000 square kilometres of land containing unexploded ordnance, and only around 2% has been cleared.

The mine agencies and Lao team leading the clearance have said that it could take decades to fully clear all of the land. The Lao government is seeking international support to train new bomb teams and keep up the effort.

Even though it is 40 years after the Vietnam War ended this is still a huge problem for the people of Laos. Since the mid-1960s more than 50,000 people have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance. The problem is so huge that centres which build prosthetic limbs have been established around Laos and more than 15,000 injured people need assistance for the rest of their lives, the Channel News Asia reports.

Commentators have said that the injured do not get enough help, and it is particularly hard on those who are on a low income. Most have, not just one, but several disabilities caused by the bombs, with little support and what support there is costing a lot of money.

International funds and donations have increased over the years to help the effort, but the government remains adamant the scale of the problem is immense and requires a long term solution.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE