9 Sep 2016

NZ helps Laos clear its countryside of cluster bombs

9:07 am on 9 September 2016

New Zealand has boosted its support to help the country of Laos clear its countryside of cluster bombs left over from the Vietnam war.

Two million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War.

Two million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

About 12,000 people have been killed or injured since the end of the war by standing on or digging up the bombs.

More than half of those are children, who sometimes think the smaller parts of the cluster bombs are toys.

During the Vietnam War more than two million tonnes of bombs were dropped on Laos, making it per capita, the most bombed country on earth.

That was the equivalent of one planeload of bombs being dropped every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.

It was estimated 80 million bombs, many of which were cluster bombs, remained dotted around the country.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key was yesterday shown around the base of the unexploded ordinance programme run by the Lao Government and the United Nations.

The unexploded ordinance programme base in laos.

The unexploded ordinance programme base in laos. Photo: RNZ / Chris Bramwell

The programme has been running since 1996 and has so far cleared more than 300sqm and destroyed about 1.4 million bombs.

Mr Key said New Zealand had been helping with the clean up since its inception.

"Most people have a deep and thorough understanding of the Vietnam War, but what people probably don't understand is the extent of the bombing here in Laos.

"Many decades on this is a country that still as a huge number of unexploded bombs, they think on the current run rate it would take 80 years to clear Laos."

New Zealand announced yesterday it would contribute a further $11.5 million to the cleanup, which Mr Key said coupled with the United States' announcement, would give 90 million over the next three years.

But Mr Key said the task was enormous.

"New Zealand's been involved in this work for a long period of time, but there's an awful lot of work to do from here.

"It's dangerous work that they do, but in the last decade they were telling me that noone undertaking the clean-up work has been injured, and the number of locals that are either being killed or injured as a result of walking on a bomb is reducing quite dramatically."

Mr Key would now head to Pohnpei in Micronesia for the Pacific Islands Forum.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs