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Sydney, Australia, 4 March 2014 –Children make up almost half of the casualties who are injured or killed each year in Laos, as a result of unexploded bombs left over from the Vietnam War, ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said today.
Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, yet for children and families in affected parts of Laos the deaths continue. At least 20,000 people have been injured or killed by unexploded bombs – mainly cluster munitions – since the end of the war. Today there are approximately 300 new casualties each year, 40 per cent of whom are children.
“In 2015, the world will remember 40 years since the end of hostilities in Vietnam and Laos. However, in Laos, innocent children and family members are still being killed by the cluster munitions dropped on their country during the war,” Mr Spence said. “The rate of clearance is painfully slow and the task is complex. People live in fear of losing loved ones on a daily basis.”
ChildFund has launched an innovative appeal urging the Australian public to help clear bombs from a group of villages in Xieng Khouang, a northern province of Laos. An interactive map has been created showing the areas most in need of clearance. Australians who want to help can choose a plot size – starting from $24 to clear 50 square metres – and the map will be updated each week so people can see how their donation has helped.
ChildFund Laos country director Chris Mastaglio said: “The bomb-removal effort in Laos is not only critical to saving lives but for lifting rural people out of poverty. Many villages in Laos are contaminated by explosives, which affects the availability of land that can be used to grow food and make a living, or provide schools and safe play spaces for children.”
During the nine years of the Vietnam War, more than 270 million cluster munitions were dropped on Laos, earning it the unenviable title of the most bombed country per capita in the world. Almost a third of these bombs failed to detonate and remain live in the ground, threatening lives as well as hindering the development of affected communities.
Of the 80 million bombs left in the ground, only a fraction has been cleared. The Lao Government’s clearance target of 20,000 hectares a year by 2015 is unlikely to be met, requiring a “four-fold increase in survey and clearance activity”.
In the Nonghet district of Xieng Khouang, where ChildFund works in partnership with communities, additional funding is needed to clear land before community development activities can begin. “These villages need schools, clean water and safe farming land,” Mr Mastaglio said. “None of this is possible until the land is cleared.”
Mr Spence added: “The lack of safe land is one of the biggest issues affecting Lao children and their families, especially in rural areas. This appeal is a quick and effective way for people in Australia to do their bit and help clear a plot of land so that a family in Laos can enjoy the safety and freedoms we take for granted. Your donation will be making an immediate and life-changing difference for hundreds of children and their families.”
To donate, visit www.childfund.org.au/appeal/laos
Statistical information sourced from National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action Sector in Lao PDR; UNDP in Lao PDR