The Government of the United States of America and the Government of Norway have continued their long-term commitments to supporting the unexploded ordnance (UXO) sector in Lao PDR, with a combined total of over USD $20.8 million committed to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) to support survey and clearance operations in four southern provinces of Lao PDR.
On 29 June 2023, the Lao PDR Ministry of Foreign Affairs approved a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), valid from the date of approval until 31 October 2024.
Under this MOU, NPA will increase its capacity to carry out survey, clearance, and explosive ordnance risk education (EORE) activities in Attapeu, Champasak, Saravane, and Sekong provinces. This is possible due to the significant increase in funding from the US Department of State of nearly $20 million dollars for NPA’s operations during this MOU period, along with an additional contribution of approximately $850,000 from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This increase in funding will accelerate the pace of vital life-saving work to remove the threat of cluster munitions identified by survey, and other UXO, and bring socio-economic benefits to thousands of families in the four provinces.
NPA aims to clear over 22.9 km2 of high-priority confirmed contaminated areas and destroy more than 35,300 UXO items in 108 villages in 22 districts across four provinces. Nearly 30,000 people are expected to directly benefit from these activities. The funding will allow NPA to hire over 400 new staff members, providing jobs for over 820 Lao people in southern Laos.
The official ceremony to launch the project, held on 19 July 2023 in Attapeu province, was attended by Lao government representatives including Mr. Bounserth Setthilad, Vice Governor of Attapeu province, Mr. Vilatsone Visonnavong, Deputy Director, INGO Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Chomyaeng Phengthongsawat, Director General, National Regulatory Authority for the UXO/Mine Action Sector, and distinguished representatives from both central and the provincial levels.
U.S. Ambassador to Lao PDR, Dr. Peter M. Haymond, reaffirmed his country’s commitment to supporting the UXO sector, stating, “It is my privilege today to announce an additional nearly $20 million contribution by the United States government for continued UXO survey and clearance efforts in four southern provinces. With this project launch, the United States aims to double the clearance capacity of Norwegian People’s Aid in Attapeu, Salavan, Sekong and Champasak provinces. The United States is the largest donor to the unexploded ordnance (UXO) sector in Laos, having contributed more than $355 million since 1995.”
H.E. Hilde Solbakken, Ambassador of Norway to Vietnam, who oversees Norwegian diplomatic affairs in Lao PDR, relayed her remarks by video message to congratulate NPA on this event, which means a significant scaling up of NPA’s presence in Laos. Ambassador Solbakken reaffirmed Norway’s commitment to supporting mine-action in Laos. She said “Over the past 32 years, humanitarian disarmament has been a key area of bilateral cooperation between Norway and Lao PDR. When it comes to mine-action, Norway takes pride in the solid work of NPA – the Norwegian People’s Aid – in Laos and elsewhere”.
“The consequences of munitions and land mines are devastating and long-term. They not only cause casualties and deaths, but also make local communities unable to use their own land whether for agriculture, schools, business or housing – potentially for generations. Clearly, we need to continue international action and coordination to speed up surveying and clearance to make sure villagers can use their land safely and without fear”, she added.
Cluster munition contamination in Lao PDR is the highest in the world per capita, posing a risk to the livelihoods, socio-economic development, and quality of life of those living in affected communities. Survey and clearance activities conducted by NPA will benefit those most at risk living in areas with the highest amount of contamination. This will allow Lao people to use their land without fear of injury or death from UXO.
NPA is also committed to promoting gender and diversity throughout its operations. The organization is working with Proud To Be Us Laos, a national Lao PDR organization, to promote gender and diversity, provide staff trainings, and create an inclusive workplace for all staff members.
NPA is likewise committed to promoting environmental protection and climate change awareness. With support from Zero Waste Laos, NPA is making progress to reduce its environmental footprint and promote awareness of climate change and environmental issues amongst its staff, youth, and local communities.