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Laos is considered a least-developed country in which the majority of the population are still living a subsistence-farming based lifestyle. In simple terms, the impact of UXOcontamination is to kill and injure people and stop food production; communities cannot access the agricultural land they need, or are forced to take terrible risks with their physical safety just in order just to feed themselves. UXO can prolongs and exacerbate these conditions of poverty.
Unexploded Ordnance restricts many aspects of community development and nation building, as the activity needed to drive forward progress and socio-economic development is either stopped or delayed. The Government of Laos recognises this and sees UXO clearance as a key development priority. Institutions such as the World Bank also acknowledge this link and contend that GDP growth is retarded significantly by the presence of a pervasive and permanent UXO problem.
How does UXO hold back Development?
The presence of UXO can lead to the following restrictions:
- Fertile or valuable land is either cut off from use and or effectively becomes unusable because of the risks involved cultivating that land
- Local trade and market access is diminished, both on account of restricted crop yields but also the dangers of transporting goods and services in contaminated areas
- Infrastructure projects such as road and school-building are delayed by having to clear UXO
- Investment opportunities in areas such as tourism and mining, are delayed by having to clear UXO
- National health institutions struggle to meet the wide range of rehabilitation needs of so many victims
- Individual communities and families suffer significant physical, emotional, social and financial trauma. Both victim and their family are often stigmatised and marginalised in their communities.
- Survivors have great difficulty in integrating back into the labour force on account of stigma and the absence of affirmative action initiatives for UXO survivors (Currently, Laos does not have the resources for such programs).
A Tough Place to Work
Complicating the whole picture even further is the Lao terrain and climate. The inherent remote, rugged and mountainous landscape, and a protracted wet season, restricts the development of travel and communication infrastructure, in turn making UXO activities more difficult.