Project Sekong 2014: When humanitarian clearance is lacking, villagers sometimes put themselves at risk.

February 25, 2014

Most of the UXO that we find cannot be moved and must be destroyed in place. When TNT is on-hand we destroy items the same day it is found. But, new government policies sometimes force us to wait for a delivery.

There was a time when clearance organizations trucked their own supply of TNT across the country and then stored it in one of several approved depots, usually at a military base. Most recently the government has insisted that the explosive travel only on their vehicles. That’s “vehicles”, plural, because the National Regulatory Agency’s S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) calls for the explosive and the necessary detonators to be transported in separate trucks, a precaution that doubles the cost of transport.

While we await the arrival of the explosives we need to complete our demolitions we are reburying the items we have already found, and are refraining from marking their locations. Thanks to modern GPS we’ll have no problem relocating those items; by not distinguishing the burial sites with warning signs we’ll avoid notifying scrap collectors that bomblets and other tempting ordnance is in the area.

Many parts of Laos have had no help with clearance since the war ended. Self-appointed village bomb experts have filled the gap and often recycle ordnance. Having a lamp made from an old cluster bomblet can create the dangerous illusion that bomblets can be collected and made into useful household objects.

Almost half of all UXO accident victims here in Laos are injured while intentionally handling ordnance. People may be acting out of desperation to move the item from a heavily trafficked area, perhaps a garden, a schoolyard, or building site, to a safer location. Or, they may be plying a dangerous trade in which they hope to harvest parts of the ordnance for use or sale.

The yellow, aluminum finned bomblet we designate the “3-B” and the Lao nickname “the pineapple” can be made into an oil lamp if a self-appointed village bomb expert removes the aluminum cap that holds the bomblet’s detonator, and empties the casing of the 80 grams of high explosive it contains.

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