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Living On Bombs

© Raffaele Petralla/Prospekt

The legacy of the Secret War in Laos

Laos is the country that detains "the most per capita bombs in history". More bombs have been released on Laos than those dropped on Europe by the U.S. and Nazis during the Second World War. From 1964 to 1973 the U.S. Air Force dropped the amount of 270 million cluster bombs on the region - an average of one every 8 minutes - as part of a long military operation that was kept secret until 1991.

According to the National Regulatory Authority for Unexploded Ordnance, 30% of these bombs have remained unexploded causing 50,000 victims; 20,000 since the end of the war. This deadly legacy continues today to threaten the lives of thousands of communities in Laos. They still find themselves surrounded by unexploded ordnance: it will take about 150 years to reclaim the entire territory.

Laotians have spent about 20 years trying to escape the bombing, taking refuge in thousands of forests and caves where they've built schools and hospitals. Most of them don't want to enter the caves anymore, because the presence of negative spirits caused by atrocious deaths are still present.

There are all kinds of bombs scattered everywhere underground, hidden among the vegetation but also exposed on the streets, shops, ready to be sold and recycled.

UXO Lao - Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Program - with the help MAG - an international NGO -, constantly operate in teams to clear community land from unexploded bombs.

In some remote villages, bombs are used as pillars for houses while other villages base their business on the creation of everyday objects such as spoons, bracelets and pots, obtained from the recycling of bombs, missiles and even American B52 aircraft, which have become fast canoes used to go fishing.

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