On 7 September 2016, UXO Lao welcomed United Nations Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon to its Training Centre at Elay Village, Vientiane.
The Secretary-General joined the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare in touring the site, viewing a demonstration of the organisation’s work, and being briefed by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong on the new Concept of Operations. The Secretary-General expressed his continued support for the Government of Lao PDR’s work to address UXO and make progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Ban joined Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith to inaugurate Lao PDR’s own national Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on unexploded ordnance (UXO).
“Lives safe from UXO; Remove the UXO obstacle to national development” is the title of SDG 18. The logo shows, on red background, a person with disability, walking away from cluster munitions on a crutch, towards an empowered, self-reliant future.
SDG 18 is the newest addition to a set of 17 globally agreed goals which form the core of a new sustainable development agenda that came into effect at the beginning of the year. Lao PDR, together with all other 192 UN Member States, endorsed the SDGs at the General Assembly in New York in September 2015 and has since made inroads in incorporating them into national plans and policies. The SDGs aim to end poverty, fight injustice and inequality and tackle climate change by 2030, thus advancing the globe onto a sustainable development path.
Lao PDR decided to further address its legacy from the Indochina War (1964-1973) by creating an own SDG on UXO, whose targets aim to reduce casualties, address the needs of victims and clear the country in a way that most benefits the poorest parts of the population. Lao PDR has also been a leading advocate for the Convention on Cluster Munitions, an international agreement which entered into force in 2010, obliging State Parties to clear contaminated areas, destroy stockpiles and provide assistance to victims of cluster munitions accidents.
At today’s SDG 18 launch, which was also attended by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Labour and Social Welfare, and Natural Resources and Environment, the Vice Minister of Investment and Planning and the UN Resident Coordinator, as well as high-ranking officials of Lao PDR, Representatives of UN Agencies and donor representatives, a renewed commitment was expressed for a future safe from UXO in Lao PDR, and for dignified lives for all UXO survivors, many of whom have life-long needs.
“More than half of the casualties caused by UXO in Lao PDR in recent years have been children, most often young boys”, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “With SDG 18, we aim to put an end to this horrible trend, once and for all. The socio-economic impact of UXO contamination means that people lack confidence in the safety of their land, which in turn has negative impacts on the income of rural farmers and their families and inhibits the development of the whole country. I welcome the Government’s commitment to free its people from UXO, with a powerful tool like a national SDG which will make sure efforts are coordinated for full impact.”
Mr. Ban Ki-moon added that with the implementation of the SDGs, the United Nations is delivering on its promise to leave no one behind. He acknowledged the support of national institutions, development partners and civil society organisations, who are all crucial for the implementation of the SDGs in Lao PDR.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith stressed the ambitious targets that come with SDG18: “Our Government, through SDG 18, will make sure that UXO are cleared to the extent possible by 2030, in high-risk areas, which are often the poorest areas of our country. We will also focus on ensuring that all survivors receive the support they need to lead dignified lives. For us to be successful we rely on a joint effort.”
As a first step of implementing SDG 18, the Government is planning to carry out a comprehensive national survey of UXO contamination, which will help to target clearance work on high-risk areas and reduce the number of casualties.
On 7 September 2016, the US President, Barack Obama paid a visit to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitor Center in Vientiane during the ASEAN Summit.
During the visit, President Obama was briefed by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong on UXO survey and clearance work in Lao PDR, detailing UXO Lao’s achievements since its establishment in 1996, as well as the organisation’s future work to support the plans of the Government of Lao PDR to implement Sustainable Development Goal 18.
President Obama met some of UXO Lao’s deminers, asking them about how long they had worked for UXO Lao and how many UXO they have destroyed.
Khanthaly replied “I have been working with UXO Lao for over 20 years and I could not remember how much UXO we destroyed because we found a lot everyday.”
The day before the visit, President Obama announced that the United States would provide an additional US$90 million to address the problem of UXO in Lao PDR over the next three years. He acknowledged that Laos is the most affected country in the world from bombs dropped during Indochina war decades ago, and noted a moral responsibility to “help the country heal”.
The United States has supported UXO Lao’s work for many years. Mr. Thiphasone thanked President Obama for his country’s support.
On 15 August 2016, UXO Lao held the 2016 Semi-Annual Work Plan Review at UXO Lao Training Center, the meeting were chaired by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone SOUKHATHAMMAVONG and UXO Lao Deputy Director Mr. Wanthong KHAMDALA with the key participants from 9 provincial offices where UXO Lao currently operating, UXO Lao Headquarters and Training Center staffs-along with international technical advisors.
The meeting will be running from 15 – 17 August 2016 with aims to review the first half of the 2016 annual operation work plan, achievements, funding situations, issues or challenges and plan for second half of the year 2016. The meeting will also discuss on the direction of how to formulate the 2017 Annual Operational Plan. In addition, the draft UNDP programme document for NRA and UXO Lao will also be discussed in the meeting.
The expected outcomes of this meeting are:
- Second-half Annual Operational and Budget Plan will be revised;
- Implementation Plan of Non-Technical Survey will be set;
- Direction of 2017 Annual Operational Work Plan will be set.
- Funding gap by Quarter 4 will be informed and shared with all participants.
On 5 August 2016, the Lao National Unexploded Ordnance Programme (UXO Lao) held a graduation ceremony for 26 members of the Humanitarian Clearance Teams of the Lao People’s Army after their completion of five-week training program on Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Level 1. The ceremony was held at the UXO Lao Training Center in Vientiane and was chaired by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong and co-chaired by Mr. Phoukhieo Chanthasomboune, Director of the National Regulatory Authority for UXO/Mine Action Sector in Lao PDR (NRA) and Lieutenant Colonel Mr. Viengxay Xaysamone, Deputy Director of Engineering Department of Ministry of National Defence, the training program was funded by the Government of Korea through the Trust Fund, administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Lao PDR.
The training program took place from 4 July to 5 August 2016 at the UXO Lao Training Center and trained a group of 26 (including 4 women) deminers. It was the third successful program for the year 2016 behind two programs in the first half year. The training aims to strengthen the capacity of the Lao People’s Army, particularly in UXO removal or destruction. The main areas covered by the training were: Basic understanding on UXOs and Landmines; UXO fuse identification; demining tools utilization and UXO removal/destruction.
Certificates of completion were distributed to all trainees to certify the accomplishment of this training program, handed-over by UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone Soukhathammavong.
In addition to the program, trainees who has shown particular aptitude during the five-week program were given a prize for first-class distinction, handed by NRA Director Mr. Phoukhieo Chanthasomboune.
Moreover, trainees who has shown their good skills were also received a present of second-class distinction which handed by Chief of UXO Lao Training Center Mr. Kham Onn Vilaysane. Lastly, all the attendees was invited for a group photos as for officially closed and for the group memories.
On 26 July 2016, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada, Stéphane Dion, paid a visit to the Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitor Center in Vientiane and observed the work of the Center for Medical Rehabilitation (CMR).
During the visit, UXO Lao Director Mr. Thiphasone SOUKHATHAMMAVONG delivered a summary presentation on survey and clearance work in Lao PDR, detailing progress so far, new methods and plans for the future. This covered UXO Lao's achievements since 1996 and ended with a warm expression of gratitude for the extensive support that Canada has provided to the UXO sector in Lao PDR since 2010.
On the same day, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway, Børge Brende, also visited COPE. Mr. Brende was briefed by Mr. Thiphasone and Jonas Zachrisson, Country Director of Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) in Lao PDR on the terms of the new partnership project that is being implemented in the country by both organizations.
Mr. Thiphasone, expressed his profound thanks to Norway and NPA for supporting the transition to evidence-based clearance in Lao PDR. This new methodology has proved a significant increase of the productivity of clearance. Now, land is cleared based on analysis of data and technical survey, so that uncontaminated land is not cleared. Since UXO Lao started using this new methodology, the average number of cluster munitions found per hectare cleared has increased from 5 to more than 22.
Mr. Thiphasone also expressed his gratitude to Norway for their generous support to UXO Lao, which enable UXO Lao to achieve several output results as planned. He also expressed his hope to continue working with both Canada and Norway to implement the organisation's future plans to address the remaining problem of UXO contamination and help the country on the road to development.
- CMAC and UXO Lao successful completed second exchange scheme under South-South Cooperation Project – Phase II
- Japan handed over dormitories and brush cutter machines to UXO Lao for enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of its UXO clearance operation
- Visit of Ms. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, UNDG Chair to Lao PDR-Luangprabang
- Visit of the Australian high level officials to UXO Lao Visitors Center in Luangprabang
- Lao Prime Minister meets US President at Asean Summit