THE LEGACY OF WAR IN LAOS

 

THE LEGACY OF WAR IN LAOS: where prosthetic limbs are designed especially with children in mind.

Laos is the most bombed country on the planet. More bombs were dropped on Laos than during the whole of Allied missions during the course of the Second World War. In an effort to stem the spread of communism, and to cut of supply lines to Vietnam, the U.S. waged a ‘secret war’ against Laos.

There are estimates that for the 8 years that this ‘secret war’ ensued, there was a bombing mission every 8 minutes for 9 years, totaling 580,000 bombing missions, with each mission dropping cluster bombs and their sub-munitions, known in Laos as ‘bombies,’ all over the country. With a 30% failure rate, this means there are now millions of bombs, live unexploded ordinance, littering the Laos landscape.

The issue with these bombies is that they spread indiscriminately, and now thirty years later, an agrarian people are left with more than 30% of their agricultural land unusable due to unexploded ordinance.

The U.S. spent more than 2 million dollars a day bombing Laos, and now children, in a country where the average person makes a dollar a day, risk their lives to harvest bomb metal for $.20 a kilo. The problem is much of this scrap metal is spread amidst live ordinance, making scrap harvesting a deadly pursuit.

The insatiable need for steel in booming economies throughout the region fuels demand for scrap metal to support construction. With little economic opportunity, the people of Laos make due with whatever resources are available. With ‘the best of Detroit steel’ spread throughout the landscape, this means the lucrative and extremely dangerous livelihood of scrap metal harvesting is flourishing in Laos despite the danger.

Children can easily secure a Vietnamese made metal detector on credit for $9, an amount that can be paid back with the $4 a child can make on a good day collecting bomb fragments. I was exposed to the stories of several children who had lost their lives and limbs while visiting COPE in Laos’s capital of Vientiane.

COPE supports the survivors of unexploded ordinance by providing prosthetic limbs, community education, and hope to those survivors of unexploded ordinance. I spent the day with Jo Pereira, the project coordinator for COPE, to learn about the issue. There work is amazing. You can learn about COPE’s work at www.copelaos.org

Many children in Laos are robbed of their future because of the insidious nature of bomb design. 'Bombies' are the size and shape of a tennis ball and look like toys, but they are actually explosives with ball bearings that tear flesh with an explosive radius of 30 meters. At COPE I heard a heart wrenching story of a three boys who touched two together and died instantly with a third being taken to the hospital by his parents only to find they didn’t have the resources of life saving blood and oxygen, so they had to take their son home to watch him die.

The United States, China, and Israel have yet to sign the ban on cluster munitions. They are still in use today. There was a gather in December of 2008 by nations still uncommitted to the banning of cluster munitions. Spread the word to others and tell your representative that you want cluster munitions banned! You can also help organizations such as COPE that support the survivors of unexploded ordinance a provide education to prevent mitigate the danger for youth throughout the community.

Take Action!

Sign to ban cluster munitions: www.avaaz.org

Contribute: www.copelaos.org

Other excellent resources on the issue:

Angela Robeson’s report “Bomb hunters” for the BBC world service

The Most Secret Place in Laos: The CIA’s Covert War in Laos, a film by Marc Eberle

The US group Legacies of War: www.everestinfo.org and www.nra.gov.la

www.clusterconvention.org

Copyright 2008-2009 Michael Trainer