Collecting war scrap in Vietnam is an illegal trade but, as in other south-east Asian countries like Laos and Cambodia, people do it as a way to survive and earn more money.
Although potentially profitable, it’s also highly dangerous. ‘X’ (he wished to remain anonymous for fear of recriminations due to the illegal status of the trade) splits his time between scrap collecting and farming in and around Moc Dinh Village, Quang Binh Province.
He makes around 150,000VND (US$9.38) per week from collecting scrap. “If I didn’t do this my family wouldn’t survive – farming only allows me to grow enough rice to last us for 8 months a year, so collecting scrap is the only thing I can do,” he says. “I realise that the job is dangerous but I’m very carefully when digging and rebury any UXO I find.”
A different villager’s story highlights just how dangerous the job can be. Nguyen Duc Canh was collecting scrap in the forest just outside Dong Hoi City in July 2005. He was in a paddy field when his shovel hit a BLU causing it to explode. “I’m now blind in one eye and lost two fingers,” he says.
|Scrap collectors in Ben Village, Quang Binh, use these improvised detectors that cost around US$20|
His reasons for risking his life are similar to those of ‘X’ – he worked as a farmer, but needed extra money for his family to survive and so his children could study. Scrap collecting could earn him between 50,000VND – 75,000VND (US$3.12 - US$4.69) per day. Due to his injuries he’s back to working just as a farmer again and has had to borrow money from relatives and neighbours. He’s hoping he will have a particularly high yield this season so that he can sell some of his crop to pay off the debt.
His daughter, Nguyen Thi Thij Uyen (14), sits beside him and is clearly still affected by the story. “I was very upset and worried when I heard about the accident. I’m very afraid of UXO - we don’t learn about the dangers at school. I think that the job of MAG is very important. They consider the life of the village. They work so that no other families will have to suffer a similar accident.”
An even more shocking example of the dangers was discovered at a scrapyard in Me Village, Quang Binh. There was an accident in January 2007 as one of the workers at the yard was cutting open a big bomb in order to remove the explosives so they could be sold. He died, along with three other people, in the resulting explosion.
|In Moc Dinh Village, Quang Binh, 14-year-old Nguyen Thi Thij Uyen sits beside her father Nguyen Duc Cahn, who lost an eye and two fingers on his right hand in a UXO accident|
Tran Thi Thu Hien is 30 years old and a mother of two. Her husband was killed instantly in the explosion as he drove his motorbike past the scrapyard and she is still angry with the scrap collectors: “My husband doesn’t even work at the yard, he was just passing by. My children have lost their father.”
Tan Thi Tam’s husband was the one who cut open the bomb. “He wasn’t a scrap collector, but used to carry steel for the scrapyard,” she says. “The owner wanted him to cut the bomb open with a chainsaw to remove the fuse and get the explosive. I told him not to do it because it was dangerous, but he still went ahead.” The accident happened right outside her house, near the corner of her garden and the eldest of her three children was the first on the scene and tried to help his father.
The memory of this is obviously still raw and tears fill her eyes as she continues. “He saw his father lying bleeding on the ground and knelt beside him, trying to push his intestines back into the wound. My son is still traumatised and whenever he sees his father’s photograph in the house, he faints.” The incomprehension is clear on her face. “If my husband dies of disease or age, it is normal. But he died because of the bomb. My home is most miserable.”
Shortly after the accident MAG were called out to check the scrapyard and discovered and removed more than 1,500 items of potentially lethal UXO including projectiles, mortars, artillery shells and a big bomb.
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