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Clearing Lao PDR from Unexploded Ordnance Is Vital for Sustainable Development

The Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) Sector Working Group met on Aug 18 in Vientiane to discuss and outline progress and plans for dealing with the UXO obstacle to Lao PDR’s development.

Sector Working Groups link local progress to national plans and policies within the national Round Table Process, Lao PDR’s development cooperation forum.

The meeting, chaired by the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Mr Khampheng Saysompheng and co-chaired by the UNDP Resident Representative, Ms Kaarina Immonen and the Ambassador of the United States of America, Ms Rena Bitter, saw the announcement of sectoral achievements since the High-Level Round Table meeting 2015.

The progress towards completing a first national survey of known cluster munition contamination was also discussed, as well as a system for prioritising UXO clearance tasks and linkages to development outcomes.

Key goals for and achievements in the UXO Sector Working Group were highlighted at the meeting with the aim to address these at the Round Table Implementation Meeting planned for November 2017.

Mr Khampheng emphasised that the UXO sector has implemented the recommendations of the High-Level Round Table Meeting 2015 such as improving the national survey procedures, prioritising survey and clearance activities and developing policy to assist UXO victims.

Ms Immonen reminded the participants of the meeting, a wide range of key Development Partners, related Ministries, non-governmental organisations, and UXO operators, that implementing Lao PDR’s national Sustainable Development Goal 18 Lives Safe from UXO is crucial for progress across multiple goals: Mine action and UXO mitigation is not only needed from a humanitarian angle, it is also enabling human development. Removing the risk will support the efforts of the Government of Lao PDR in implementing several other Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 8 on decent work, and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities, as well as having a positive influence on numerous others.

Lao PDR is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita. Up to 30% of the total 270 million of cluster munitions dropped on Laos during the Indochina War did not detonate, so that around 80 million bomblets remain scattered and buried in the ground, continuing to be a threat to the lives of rural populations and a hindrance to the use of land for agriculture.

Fifty nine people were injured or killed last year through exploding bombs in Laos. During the meeting, the Minister informed the participants that there are already 28 recorded casualties in 2017 and it is foreseen that this number will unfortunately further increase before the end of the year.

Ms Bitter emphasised that Identifying the location and scale of the remaining cluster munition contamination is important to us, to the Government of Laos and, most importantly, the people of Laos. The national cluster munition survey will enable us to identify priorities and resources for the large clearance tasks that remain.

The UXO Sector Working Group Meeting was succeeded by a UXO Project Board Meeting which addressed the achievements of a UXO project implemented by the National Regulatory Authority for UXO and Mine Action (NRA) and UXO Lao, the national UXO clearance operator, with support from UNDP and its Development Partners.

The meeting was an opportunity to further discuss and approve the plans for UNDP’s new five-year UXO support programme which started in June 2017.

Appreciation was expressed at both events to all donors and partners who keep supporting the Government of Lao PDR in addressing and overcoming the UXO obstacle.

Source: Lao News Agency