(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

New MDG to tackle UXOs

UXO debris in Laos where a new Millennium Development Goal aims to rid the country of undetonated explosives

In the world's most heavily bombed country per capita, a specific Millennium Development Goal (MDG) has been adopted to clear unexploded ordnance (UXO) and help survivors 37 years after the last US bomb fell on Lao People's Democratic Republic (Laos).

The new MDG on UXO action was endorsed at an end-October signing of the country's MDG Compact, a statement by the Laotian government and its international development partners to reaffirm their commitment to achieving all the MDGs by 2015.

US forces dropped 277 million "bomblets" - the fallout when cluster bombs split open - between 1964 and 1973 during its war in neighbouring Vietnam, based on US records. UXOs wound or kill 300 people every year in Laos, affecting some 25 percent of all villages, according to the Laotian government.

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MDG 9 will make clearing agricultural land a priority in the next decade - 80 percent of the country depends on the land for livelihoods - as well as provide for the medical needs of UXO survivors, Saleumxay Kommasith, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told IRIN.

Farmers at risk

A farmer from southern Laos, Ta Douangchom, 37, had both arms amputated and lost his right eye in a UXO accident nine years ago. He amassed years of debt when he sold livestock and borrowed money from village authorities to pay for medical care.

In 2006 he had two prosthetic arms fitted at the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) in the capital Vientiane, a collaboration with the Ministry of Health, the country's only centre to provide no-cost rehabilitation services.

MDG 9 will hopefully demonstrate the impact UXOs continue to have on everyday life, said Kerryn Clarke, COPE project coordinator. "It [MDG 9] is part education for people and donors who don't normally work in UXO-affected countries."

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Without "substantial support", the government is unlikely to meet its obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions effective from 1 August 2010, said Kommasith. "The government of Laos would not be in a position to achieve these goals."

The UN estimates US$300 million will be required over the next decade. The government and UN have established a UXO Trust Fund to channel monies to the UXO sector.

The cluster munitions convention bans the use, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions; Article 5 refers to victim assistance. "Our objective is to reduce the number of victims to less than 200 people a year in the next five years," Kommasith added.

The new MDG coincides with the end of a five-day First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane on 12 November.

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