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Laos: Clearing bombs to make way for schools

As the Country Manager here in Laos, I get to see a whole range of development issues in play from the national level down to the village level. One of the most striking issues for me from my time here has been the ongoing impact of unexploded ordnance (UXO), even though the Vietnam War ended more than 30 years ago.

In one of the communities where we work, for example, the nearest primary school was a 45-minute walk away and, not surprisingly, school enrolment was below average. ChildFund supported the community to build a primary school and during the construction phase, the chosen site had to be levelled and prepared. This preparation took three months of painstaking work by a partner UXO clearance organisation able to work only to 30cm depth at a time. The whole process turned up 189 pieces of ordnance; most of them cluster munitions.

This legacy of the war continues not only to put children and their communities at risk of injury or death, it also affects the availability of safe play spaces for children and the amount of land available to grow food and to make a living. These impacts are continuing to be felt today and for me, it is striking that many of my friends and family are unaware of how heavily affected Laos still is today by a war that ended more than 30 years ago.

Bombie found on school site. Thousands of children have been killed or maimed (often losing their hand and arm) when picking up these objects out of curiosity.

This week, the Senate will debate legislation which would allow Australian forces to assist in the use of cluster bombs. This is despite the fact that Australia has signed a convention banning their use. Each cluster bomb can contain hundreds of bomblets, and over a third of victims are children. Take action by signing this petition.

ChildFund Australia is a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition. For more info, visit www.cmcaustralia.org

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