Writer and comedian Victoria Wood has visited Lao PDR to see for herself the problems the country faces with UXO (unexploded ordnance) and the work MAG carries out to remove this legacy of the Vietnam War, nearly 40 years ago. Her trip featured in a BBC appeal, Lifeline (above).
Please make a donation towards MAG's work around the world:
Read more on Victoria Wood's visit to MAG in Lao PDR below....
Photos: Steve Joyce/MAG
Click on large photo for caption. View more MAG galleries on Flickr
Scrap metal - a deadly trade
Victoria travelled to the northern province of Xieng Khouang where she visited Nam, a scrap metal dealer. Although he cannot by law buy live UXO, he does find live items amongst the safe items given to him. This is of particular concern as he lives with his wife and three children next door to his scrap yard.
What is unexploded ordnance (UXO)?
UXO refers to explosive weapons – such as bombs, rockets, missiles, mortars and grenades – that did not explode as intended and still pose a risk of detonation, potentially many decades after they were employed or discarded.
Victoria then went to the foundry in the town of Phonsavan where all the scrap metal from local dealers is taken. MAG has previously made safe or destroyed over 85,000 items of live UXO.
In the highly dangerous surroundings of a foundry, any one of these items could have exploded causing a chain reaction which could have destroyed the foundry and local houses. One foundry worker has already died due to UXO. The evidence of UXO is all around, with piles of safe ordnance inside and outside waiting to be smelted.
UXO accident survivor, Te
Sadly, Victoria also met an 11 year old boy with serious injuries due to UXO. Te was planting vegetables in his garden when he hit a cluster submunition with his spade. His arm was badly damaged and he lost one of his teeth. In addition, his body was pierced by the shrapnel. Victoria met Te in hospital and the interview can be seen in the appeal film.
A foundry in Phonsavan, Xieng Khouang province, where MAG has made safe or destroyed over 85,000 items of live UXO.
[Photos: Steve Joyce/MAG]
Following a two hour drive from Phonsavan to Nong Het near the border with Vietnam, Victoria saw the work being undertaken by one of MAG's all female teams. Led by Pheng, the team had been working on farmer Mr Va Por Lor's land for 23 days and found over 500 cluster bombs.
By destroying these submunitions, MAG will enable him to expand his crops, to grow more rice to feed his family of nine children and to sell corn as a cash crop. Victoria watched the team carefully find the bombs using metal detectors, and then witnessed a controlled explosion.
'Bomb Village': above, outer casings of cluster bombs dropped during the Vietnam War are used as fences. An estimated 80 million cluster submunitions, the small bombs contained within these casings, failed to explode on impact and litter Lao PDR's landscape. Every week there are casualties.
MAG removes and destroys UXO, returning safe land to some of the country's poorest people. This enables them to live, farm and work without fear.
Your donation could help MAG to destroy more bombs, clear more landmines and collect more guns and ammunition, allowing the return of safe land to ordinary people to they can live, farm, work and go to school without fear of injury or death. You can make an online donation here.
On a plain near Phonsavan, Victoria saw the incredible destructive power of the bombs dropped on Lao PDR during the Vietnam War. In the film, she can be seen talking from the centre of a huge crater at Khai Village, known as 'Crater Village', a landscape dotted with dozens of huge craters.
Later, Victoria visited Thachock village, known as 'Bomb Village', where she saw the ingenious use the villagers make of the cluster bomb casings they find.
The cases are used as stilts on which to build houses and farm buildings, fences and pots for growing vegetables.
Plain of Jars
Victoria's five days in Lao PDR ended with a visit to the Plain of Jars, a World Heritage Site where hundreds of 1,800 year old stone jars, some as tall as a person, litter the landscape.
Nobody is sure what the jars were for, but the Plain is now a major tourist attraction bringing vital tourist income to the local economy. MAG has facilitated this by clearing much of the ordnance that contaminated that site. (See this article on the Plain of Jars from 2004: Bombs and relics.)
MAG is delighted to have received the support of Victoria Wood and the BBC in making this appeal film and would like to thank all concerned.
If you would like to make a donation, you can do so online here. Thank you.
Victoria Wood on BBC Woman's Hour
You can also hear Victoria being interviewed on Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. Listen here and go to 11 minutes 47 seconds.