The United States is strengthening its commitment to the UXO sector in Laos by increasing its total assistance for Laos’ UXO sector to $15 million this year. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel announced the new assistance during the annual U.S.-Lao PDR Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue, which took place in Washington, D.C. on June 19. The Lao delegation to the Dialogue, led by Vice Foreign Minister Madame Sounthone Xayachak, thanked the United States for its continued, robust support to the Lao UXO Sector, including to the National Regulatory Authority and to UXO Lao.
Last month, U.S. Ambassador to Laos Daniel Clune announced that the United States would commit $13 million to the UXO sector this year. Assistant Secretary Russel and Ambassador Clune, who also participated in the Dialogue, explained that the additional increase in funding represents a U.S. and Lao desire to increase the pace of non-technical and technical surveys of UXO contamination in Lao villages. UXO Lao and international NGOs are already implementing these surveys in Laos, and the data they yield will lead to more accurate searches for UXO contamination and eventual destruction of UXO. The United States and other development partners in the UXO sector are eager to work with the NRA to set ambitious but achievable targets in the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan for completing surveys in the provinces most contaminated with UXO.
Due to assistance from the United States and many other donor countries, and due to the hard work of many UXO clearance and education organizations, casualties from UXO accidents have decreased in recent years from an average of about 300 per year to less than 50 for the past two years. Ambassador Clune told the Lao delegation in Washington that “there are still too many casualties. We want the number to go down every year.”
Since 1993, the U.S. has provided over $85 million in UXO-related assistance to Laos. Prior to this year’s increases, the U.S provided about $9 million per year in 2012 and 2013, and $12 million in 2014.
As in years past, U.S. funding will support cooperation with the NRA, UXO-Lao, other humanitarian clearance operators, international organizations, and local organizations. The funding will help support evidence-based survey for UXO contamination, and funds for clearance will focus on provinces seriously impacted by cluster munitions. Victims’ assistance will provide direct services to survivors of UXO accidents and their families and also support the capacity development of national institutions to provide victim’s assistance. Funds will also help strengthen first aid and emergency response of key health facilities and village volunteers in heavily impacted provinces. Funding for risk awareness supports educating Lao citizens – especially children – about the dangers of UXO.