On 8 September 2016, UXO Lao welcomed Rt. Hon. Mr. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand to UXO Lao Training Center at Elay Village, Vientiane.
A much needed boost to mine risk education and the clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Lao PDR’s heavily contaminated northern province of Xiengkhouang was announced by the Prime Minister of New Zealand at the Training Center.
The new contribution from New Zealand of NZD 10 million (USD 7.2 million) is one of the biggest single contributions made through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to Lao PDR’s UXO sector, and will allow for long-term planning by UXO Lao in Xiengkhouang with financing certainty for the next four years.
Speaking at the Ban Elay UXO Training Center, the Rt. Hon. Mr. John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand said:
“New Zealand has a strong legacy of supporting UXO clearance around the world, including for the past 20 years in Laos, and this funding will make a real difference to the safety and economic prospects of the people there.
“We are proud to stand alongside the people and Government of Laos to continue this important work.”
The Government of New Zealand has been a key partner to the Government of Lao PDR and the UNDP since 2010, in the effort to reduce the impact of UXO in Xiengkhouang Province, considered the second most-contaminated province in the country.
Dr. Khampheng Saysompheng, Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, acknowledged the impact of New Zealand’s support to UXO clearance in Xiengkhouang Province since 2010:
“More than 3,000 hectares of land have been cleared for safe use and important development projects. This has made a huge contribution to the socio-economic development of the province and the country, addressing poverty, reducing the number of casualties from UXO and reducing the risks to affected communities.”
Casualties from UXO in Xiengkhouang have reduced significantly from 41 in 2010 to 11 in 2015, due to clearance and mine risk education supported by New Zealand among others.
Ms. Kaarina Immonen, UNDP Resident Representative, stressed the importance of sustained support to UXO clearance and victim assistance:
“New Zealand has been a valued partner in this effort. The new contribution announced today is comprehensive. It has been designed together with the Government and in coordination with other donors. The grant is long-term, which enables UXO Lao to plan its work, with a focus on Xiengkhuang province.”
Lao PDR is one of the most heavily bombed countries in the world, per capita, following the Second Indochina War. The dangerous UXO left behind as sad legacies of the war continue to be a threat to the lives of rural populations and a hindrance to the use of land for agriculture and development.
UNDP works closely with the Government of Lao PDR to address the UXO problem. This engagement is through the national clearance operator UXO Lao and the National Regulatory Authority for UXO and Mine Action in Lao PDR.
The much needed boost of funding from New Zealand to UXO Lao in Xiengkhouang will support 12 UXO clearance teams, one mine risk education team, two UXO survey teams and the purchasing of necessary equipment for the task.
The contribution will also support the process of completing a national survey of known cluster munition contamination by 2021, which has been planned by the National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action with the support of UNDP.
On 7 September 2016, UXO Lao welcomed United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon to its Training Centre at Elay Village, Vientiane.
The Secretary-General joined the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare in touring the site, viewing a demonstration of the organisation’s work, and being briefed by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong on the new Concept of Operations. The Secretary-General expressed his continued support for the Government of Lao PDR’s work to address UXO and make progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Ban joined Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith to inaugurate Lao PDR’s own national Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on unexploded ordnance (UXO).
“Lives safe from UXO; Remove the UXO obstacle to national development” is the title of SDG 18. The logo shows, on red background, a person with disability, walking away from cluster munitions on a crutch, towards an empowered, self-reliant future.
SDG 18 is the newest addition to a set of 17 globally agreed goals which form the core of a new sustainable development agenda that came into effect at the beginning of the year. Lao PDR, together with all other 192 UN Member States, endorsed the SDGs at the General Assembly in New York in September 2015 and has since made inroads in incorporating them into national plans and policies. The SDGs aim to end poverty, fight injustice and inequality and tackle climate change by 2030, thus advancing the globe onto a sustainable development path.
Lao PDR decided to further address its legacy from the Indochina War (1964-1973) by creating an own SDG on UXO, whose targets aim to reduce casualties, address the needs of victims and clear the country in a way that most benefits the poorest parts of the population. Lao PDR has also been a leading advocate for the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international agreement which entered into force in 2010, obliging State Parties to clear contaminated areas, destroy stockpiles and provide assistance to victims of cluster munitions accidents.
At today’s SDG 18 launch, which was also attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Labour and Social Welfare, and Natural Resources and Environment, the Vice Minister of Investment and Planning and the UN Resident Coordinator, as well as high-ranking officials of Lao PDR, Representatives of UN Agencies and donor representatives, a renewed commitment was expressed for a future safe from UXO in Lao PDR, and for dignified lives for all UXO survivors, many of whom have life-long needs.
“More than half of the casualties caused by UXO in Lao PDR in recent years have been children, most often young boys”, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “With SDG 18, we aim to put an end to this horrible trend, once and for all. The socio-economic impact of UXO contamination means that people lack confidence in the safety of their land, which in turn has negative impacts on the income of rural farmers and their families and inhibits the development of the whole country. I welcome the Government’s commitment to free its people from UXO, with a powerful tool like a national SDG which will make sure efforts are coordinated for full impact.”
Mr. Ban Ki-moon added that with the implementation of the SDGs, the United Nations is delivering on its promise to leave no one behind. He acknowledged the support of national institutions, development partners and civil society organisations, who are all crucial for the implementation of the SDGs in Lao PDR.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith stressed the ambitious targets that come with SDG18: “Our Government, through SDG 18, will make sure that UXO are cleared to the extent possible by 2030, in high-risk areas, which are often the poorest areas of our country. We will also focus on ensuring that all survivors receive the support they need to lead dignified lives. For us to be successful we rely on a joint effort.”
As a first step of implementing SDG 18, the Government is planning to carry out a comprehensive national survey of UXO contamination, which will help to target clearance work on high-risk areas and reduce the number of casualties.
On 7 September 2016, the US President, Barack Obama paid a visit to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitor Center in Vientiane during the ASEAN Summit.
During the visit, President Obama was briefed by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong on UXO survey and clearance work in Lao PDR, detailing UXO Lao’s achievements since its establishment in 1996, as well as the organisation’s future work to support the plans of the Government of Lao PDR to implement Sustainable Development Goal 18.
President Obama met some of UXO Lao’s deminers, asking them about how long they had worked for UXO Lao and how many UXO they have destroyed.
Khanthaly replied “I have been working with UXO Lao for over 20 years and I could not remember how much UXO we destroyed because we found a lot everyday.”
The day before the visit, President Obama announced that the United States would provide an additional US$90 million to address the problem of UXO in Lao PDR over the next three years. He acknowledged that Laos is the most affected country in the world from bombs dropped during Indochina war decades ago, and noted a moral responsibility to “help the country heal”.
The United States has supported UXO Lao’s work for many years. Mr. Thiphasone thanked President Obama for his country’s support.
On 15 August 2016, UXO Lao held the 2016 Semi-Annual Work Plan Review at UXO Lao Training Center, the meeting were chaired by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone SOUKHATHAMMAVONG and UXO Lao Deputy Director Mr. Wanthong KHAMDALA with the key participants from 9 provincial offices where UXO Lao currently operating, UXO Lao Headquarters and Training Center staffs-along with international technical advisors.
The meeting will be running from 15 – 17 August 2016 with aims to review the first half of the 2016 annual operation work plan, achievements, funding situations, issues or challenges and plan for second half of the year 2016. The meeting will also discuss on the direction of how to formulate the 2017 Annual Operational Plan. In addition, the draft UNDP programme document for NRA and UXO Lao will also be discussed in the meeting.
The expected outcomes of this meeting are:
- Second-half Annual Operational and Budget Plan will be revised;
- Implementation Plan of Non-Technical Survey will be set;
- Direction of 2017 Annual Operational Work Plan will be set.
- Funding gap by Quarter 4 will be informed and shared with all participants.
On 5 August 2016, the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao) held a graduation ceremony for 26 members of the Humanitarian Clearance Teams of the Lao People’s Army after their completion of five-week training program on Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Level 1. The ceremony was held at the UXO Lao Training Center in Vientiane and was chaired by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong and co-chaired by Mr. Phoukhieo Chanthasomboune, Director of the National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action Sector in Lao PDR (NRA) and Lieutenant Colonel Mr. Viengxay Xaysamone, Deputy Director of Engineering Department of Ministry of National Defence, the training program was funded by the Government of Korea through the Trust Fund, administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Lao PDR.
The training program took place from 4 July to 5 August 2016 at the UXO Lao Training Center and trained a group of 26 (including 4 women) deminers. It was the third successful program for the year 2016 behind two programs in the first half year. The training aims to strengthen the capacity of the Lao People’s Army, particularly in UXO removal or destruction. The main areas covered by the training were: Basic understanding on UXOs and Landmines; UXO fuse identification; demining tools utilization and UXO removal/destruction.
Certificates of completion were distributed to all trainees to certify the accomplishment of this training program, handed-over by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong.
In addition to the program, trainees who has shown particular aptitude during the five-week program were given a prize for first-class distinction, handed by NRA Director Mr. Phoukhieo Chanthasomboune.
Moreover, trainees who has shown their good skills were also received a present of second-class distinction which handed by Chief of UXO Lao Training Center Mr. Kham Onn Vilaysane. Lastly, all the attendees was invited for a group photos as for officially closed and for the group memories.
- Foreign Ministers of Canada and Norway Meet UXO Lao During COPE Visits
- CMAC and UXO Lao successful completed second exchange scheme under South-South Cooperation Project – Phase II
- Japan handed over dormitories and brush cutter machines to UXO Lao for enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of its UXO clearance operation
- Visit of Ms. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, UNDG Chair to Lao PDR-Luangprabang
- Visit of the Australian high level officials to UXO Lao Visitors Center in Luangprabang