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|Although the war ended in 1975, the discovery of bombs, mines, and UXOs is still dragging on|
It has been 12 years since farmer Dao Thi Lua from the central province of Quang Tri’s Hai Lang district lost her three children.
“I lost everything, and a big scar in my heart remains and the wound will never heal,” said Lua, 63, who still lives in a shabby house together with an ailing 67-year-old husband.
One day in 2009, their children with 12-year-old Dao Ba Thanh asked his two brothers to take their buffaloes to a hill near their houses for grazing. The three poor children went up to the hilltop to play hide-and-seek. They suddenly found a number of shrapnel bombs. Fuelled by curiosity, they tried to smash the ordnances. The bombs exploded, killing them immediately.
“Thanh lost his legs, abdomen and one arm, while the remainder of his body was pierced with shrapnel. The other two children suffered much the same plight,” Lua recalled with tears. “A few bombs remained unexploded around them.”
It was reported that the area was once home to fierce bombing by the US army in 1972, but then was turned to agricultural production, though everyone knows that many bombs are still left dotting around. Lua said at the same spot, two other children were killed by an explosion in 1996. “They were so innocent, why did they have to die?” she cried.
Although the war ended in 1975, hundreds of thousands of people in Vietnam like Lua’s children, especially those in the central region, still suffer from the grave aftermaths, with bombs, mines, and other unexploded ordnances (UXOs) still being found to this day, jeopardising lives in many areas of the country.
Many people have lost their lives, body parts, or loved ones. At the same time, the consequences of landmines and UXO contamination have possibly hindered socioeconomic development and posed challenges to the realisation of Vietnam’s sustainable development goals.
According to Project RENEW – an organisation founded in 2001 by Quang Tri and international non-governmental organisations as an effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by cluster bombs and other munitions remaining in this central province, since 1975 the UXOs remain a serious threat to many communities throughout Vietnam.
It is estimated that out of eight million tonnes of munitions used by the US during the war, 10 per cent failed to detonate on impact. This means that many unstable and dangerous munitions still lie just beneath the ground.
According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, unexploded bombs have been responsible for more than 100,000 injuries and fatalities since 1975, rendering many of the survivors permanently disabled.
During the war Quang Tri was subjected to some of the heaviest bombing ever experienced. The province alone has sustained over 8,500 casualties from accidents involving UXOs, and 31 per cent of the victims have been children like Lua’s kids in Hai Lang district.
“Although data is not available to measure economic losses of agricultural land or other development restrictions due to widespread UXO contamination, these socioeconomic costs are considered to be extremely high,” said Project RENEW on its website.
According to statistics from the Vietnamese government, it is estimated that over 6.1 million hectares of land or 18.71 per cent of Vietnam’s total area are contaminated with about 800,000 tonnes of bombs, mines, and UXOs left by wars, which are scattered over all 63 cities and provinces in the country, with the central region the hardest hit.
Since 1975, bombs and mines have killed more than 40,000 people and injured 60,000 others, many of whom are family breadwinners and children. Over 2,000 sappers died or were injured while searching for bombs and mines during the period.
Right after the end of the war, the Party and the state identified the settlement of consequences caused by war-era bombs, mines, and UXO as an urgent but long-term task.
For the 2016-2025 period, the Vietnamese government aims to clear about 800,000ha of bomb- and mine-polluted land, while calling for domestic and international resources for the implementation of the programme.
Simultaneously, residents living in danger zones will be relocated, and bomb and mine clearance projects will be added to local socioeconomic development plans.
Thanks to the joint efforts, each year Vietnam has decontaminated 40,000-50,000ha of land. However, it will take more than a century to clear all bombs and mines in the country, with an estimated cost of over $10 billion, excluding spending on resettlement and social welfare work in danger zones.
In Vietnam, 40 social service centres and 400 rehabilitation centres have been established so far to assist people with disabilities, including victims of post-war bombs and mines.
All bomb and mine victims in the country have been entitled to social welfare benefits such as free health insurance and support in functional rehabilitation and vocational training.
In terms of policies, over past years, the Party and the state have always paid due care and attention to carrying out a number of important policies and guidelines in overcoming landmines and UXO consequences, especially helping post-war landmines and UXO victims.
The Secretariat issued Directive No.43 in 2015 on the enhancement of the Party’s leadership in terms of the settlement of the consequences of toxic chemicals used by the US during the war in Vietnam. The prime minister approved the National Action Programme on Overcoming Post-war Bomb and Mine Consequences during 2010-2025, and the National Action Plan for Overcoming Consequences of Toxic Chemicals used by the US during the war in Vietnam for the 2015-2020 period.
Furthermore, the government has also established the National Steering Committee for Overcoming the Consequences of Chemical and Explosive Remnants of War.
Ministries, agencies, and localities across the country have actively cooperated with many countries and international organisations to implement various projects to overcome the consequences of war, while performing investigation and evaluation and dealing with landmines and toxic chemicals in severely affected areas.
These include a cooperation project between Vietnam and the US on dioxin remediation at Danang International Airport, and one between Vietnam and South Korea on overcoming landmines and UXO consequences in the central provinces of Quang Binh and Binh Dinh.
“These results are of great significance, contributing to raising public awareness of and care and attention for the work of overcoming the consequences of wartime landmines and UXO,” said former Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at a recent Hanoi-based conference on the issue.
“In the hope that Vietnam would become a country that is no longer exposed to the aftermaths of landmines and UXO in terms of socioeconomic development while creating a safe environment for people, the government has asked agencies at all levels to make greater efforts, develop awareness, and take resolute action to overcome the consequences and quickly reduce areas contaminated with bombs and mines and toxic chemicals, while performing the work of accident prevention and actively supporting victims,” he added.
Vietnam is acting as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the 2020-2021 tenure, and as the UNSC chair in April. The key activities of Vietnam as the leader of the council this month are focused on organising three events: one on mine action and sustaining peace; a second on protection of objects essential to the survival of civilian populations in armed conflicts; and the third on the cooperation between the UN and regional organisations in boosting dialogue and trust-building measures to prevent conflicts.
At last week’s online meeting on mine action and sustaining peace, the UNSC adopted its first chair declaration proposed by Vietnam and exclusively highlighting the overcoming of bomb and mine consequences.
“The declaration is very important as it underlines the connection between the overcoming of bomb and mine consequences and the maintenance of peace, stability, and sustainable development,” said a statement from the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “It affirms the commitment of the UNSC and heightens the necessity of international cooperation in the work of overcoming bomb and mine consequences.”
Moreover, the declaration also covers new important content, such as multifaceted negative impacts of COVID-19, encouragement in strengthening support for affected nations, and a need to consider the establishment of units specialised in overcoming bomb and mine consequences at the UN peacekeeping missions with special requirements for women and children in the implementation of related tasks.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dang Hoang Giang said, “Vietnam’s active participation in and specific initiative on the issue of mine action are demonstrating the country’s contributions to a sector that many nations are interested in, making another milestone in the country’s 2020-2021 UNSC tenure.”
“This also manifests the humanity in solving aftermath of bombs and mines, raising public awareness and attracting more international attention to the overcoming of war aftermath in Vietnam, thereby taking advantage of international support for Vietnam and other nations overcome the aftermaths of war,” Giang said.
According to statistics from the International Committee of the Red Cross, casualties caused by bombs and mines in the world remain at a high level. In the early 2000s, there were 15,000-20,000 cases a year. Then the number decreased gradually in the following years. However, figures have increased in recent years, luring in attention from the international community.
Under statistics from non-governmental organisation Landmine Monitor based in Switzerland, the number of casualties due to bombs and mines left from wars worldwide was nearly 3,700 in 2014, 6,460 in 2015, and over 8,600 in 2016. In 2019, 80 per cent of casualties were civilians, of whom 43 per cent were children.
At the UNSC, Vietnam has highlighted the role of overcoming the consequences of bombs and mines in post-conflict reconstruction at forums, with some important proposals based on the UNSC’s Resolution 2365 released in 2017 on mine action, and via new UNSC documents such as Resolution 2540 enacted last year on the extension of the UN’s mission in Somalia.
Last week, Quang Tri authorities, and international mine action organisations including Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), Mines Advisory Group (MAG), PeaceTrees Vietnam (PTVN), Project RENEW, and Gio Linh District Youth Union hosted a public gathering to mark the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action (April 4), which has run since 2005.
Nearly 300 people including field operators from MAG and PTVN, staff from Quang Tri Mine Action Centre and Quang Tri Department of Foreign Affairs, and members of Gio Linh Youth Union attended the gathering and later collected litter from Cua Viet Beach.
This year, the UN called for continued efforts by states, with the assistance of the UN and relevant organisations, to foster the establishment and development of national mine-action capacities in countries where mines and explosive ordnance constitute a serious threat to the safety, health, and lives of the civilian population, or an impediment to social and economic development at the national and local levels.
On this occasion, Project RENEW’s representatives handed over 10 wheelchairs and tricycles funded by Irish Aid to severely disabled persons, explosive ordnance survivors who live in Gio Linh district.
Triple amputee Ho Van Lai was among those who received a tricycle at the event. In 2000, Lai was seriously injured in an explosion of a cluster bomb near his home that killed two of his cousins. Lai was only 10 years old at the time.
“The aftermath of my accident was horrendous. From a normal kid, I was turned into a severely disabled one,” said Lai, who now works with Project RENEW’s Risk Education Programme as a collaborator, disseminating safety information to both children and adults and encouraging them to report discoveries of explosives to mobile disposal teams for timely destruction.
“Mine Action has helped me re-integrate into the community as a helpful person to society,” Lai said. “Thanks to Mine Action, disabled persons like me are positively welcomed by the community, so we feel more confident.”
Not as lucky as Lai, Lua from Quang Tri’s Hai Lang district said that in her locality, a number of other people have had their limbs removed due to the explosion of bombs in the ground. “We dream that one day bombs and mines in our land will be cleared totally, so that no-one has to face death or injury the way my children did,” Lua said.
According to the Vietnamese Permanent Mission to the UN, some tasks must be implemented to help not only Vietnam, but also many other nations worldwide to shun risks caused by bombs and mines.
Firstly, it is necessary to consider the work of overcoming the consequences of landmines and UXO an urgent task, showing deep humanity while contributing to properly protecting lives, health, and safety for people, while at the same time cleaning up the environment and offering favourable conditions for localities affected by landmines and toxic chemicals to develop the socio-economy sustainably.
Secondly, it is necessary to continue reviewing and completing the policies on overcoming the consequences of landmines and UXO, especially assistance in medicine and employment for victims and related ones while taking better care of the lives of people affected by landmines and UXO.
Thirdly, it is critical to intensify cooperation with other countries and organisations at home and abroad so as to fully mobilise all resources for the settlement of the consequences of landmines and UXO in an effort to jointly help improve the living conditions and render supports for victims of landmines and UXO to integrate into the community.
As UNSC chair, Vietnam is scheduled to organise a large-scale ministerial-level online meeting themed “Protection of objects essential to the survival of civilian populations in armed conflicts” on April 27. Vietnam will also push the UNSC to adopt a document on this issue at the meeting.
Vietnam’s active participation in and pushing this issue will significantly demonstrate the country’s humane and humanitarian external policy, as well as its high spirit and responsibility as a UNSC non-permanent member, while enhancing the country’s status and role in the issue of civilian protection, which is one of the issues receiving major attention from the international community.
This will also be a precious opportunity for Vietnam to share experiences it gained during the wars and during the time of national reconstruction and recovering from war consequences, as well as attracting more international attention and assistance.
At the same time, this is also an opportunity for Vietnam to promote its role and contributions to pushing up the respect and implementation of international humanitarian law, contributing to the world’s shared efforts in constructing peace and establishing a sustainable peace – which is a key priority of Vietnam at the UNSC.
According to an annual report from the UN secretary-general on civilian protection in armed conflicts in 2019 and 2020, more than 50 million were heavily affected by attacks on crucial infrastructure works.