Published 12 September 2014
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A Lao woman uproots rice seedlings in a paddy field. (Photo: Reuters)
Women risk their lives to clear bomb shells in Laos and make up 40 percent of the bomb clearance teams in Xieng Khouang province.
The bomb shells they search for were dropped buy the U.S. during the Vietnam War. The U.S. had dropped 260 million cluster bombs on Laos. At the time the U.S. dropped 260 million bombs which gave the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in the world.
The bombs targeted Ho Chi Mihn trail, which was the supply route for communist forces. Laos, however was not officially involved in the war, but because it was the neighbor of Vietnam its people were killed in the process.
Phou Vongh is part of a female team whose mission is to find and destroy unexploded bombs. This job is very dangerous but Phou Vong says she needs the work to support her family. To collect bomb shells she ears $250 a month, more than the average wage in Laos.
Up to 20,000 people have been hurt by cluster bombs in Laos since the bombing stopped. Many have lost their hands and sight because of cluster bombs exploding.
“In Laos culture, particularly in the more remote communities where accidents tend to happen, it is sometimes considered bad luck and then that person is shunned a little bit by his or her family and by their village and community as well. So that is quite a profound impact on a person,” said Colette McInerney, an Australian aid worker.
In spite of 20 years of bomb hunting in Laos, a little more than one percent of the land has been cleared.