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There are ten unexploded bombs in the fields and forests of Laos for every man, woman and child in the country. Ten unexploded bombs per person.

Between 1964 and 1973, the US carried out 580,000 bombing missions over Laos, dropping over two million tons of ordnance, the equivalent of one planeload of bombs every eight minutes every day for nine years. These astounding statistics make Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. 

Many of the bombs dropped on Laos were cluster bombs, which consist of a canister filled with hundreds of small bombs released as the cluster bomb falls. The cluster bombs unleashed on Laos had a 30% failure rate, leaving around 80 million unexploded bomblets waiting for the unwary. The Lao call them “bombies”. There have been over 20,000 bomb-related deaths or injuries in Laos since the bombs stopped falling in 1973; 40% of the victims are children.

The bombings were part of America’s “Secret War” to support the Royal Lao government in their civil war against the communists, and to prevent the north Vietnamese moving supplies and people along the Ho Chi Minh Trail within Laos.

According to legaciesof war.com: “Between 1995 and 2013, the U.S. contributed on average $3.2M per year for UXO [unexploded ordnance] clearance in Laos; the U.S. spent $13.3M per day (in 2013 dollars) for nine years bombing Laos.”

Aside from the US, the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and others are active in Laos, clearing contaminated fields and villages, but face a mammoth task.

Before we visited Laos, we knew a little about this terrible legacy, but I had not fully understood the negative economic impact of UXO. People are afraid to clear new fields for planting, to dig irrigation ditches and to forage or hunt in the forests. The MAG Visitor Centre in Phonsavan tells poignant stories of changing peoples’ lives by making their environment safe to farm. In many cases, newly cleared fields make it possible for families to feed themselves year round for the first time by growing an additional cash crop to supplement their previously meagre rice harvest.  

Bomb crater - Phonsavan
Bomb crater - Phonsavan
Bombs outside bar - Phonsavan
Bombs outside bar - Phonsavan