MAG in Laos









More than 40 years after the end of the Second Indochina War, people in Laos continue to live in danger from unexploded ordnance (UXO). These deadly items threaten their lives and hinder development. This is unacceptable.


UXO accident survivor in Laos

An unexploded ordnance (UXO) accident survivor in Laos.

Photo: Sean Sutton/MAG

The problems

Why MAG is in Laos

Laos has the unenviable title of being the most bombed country in the world per capita. For nearly a decade  Laos was subjected to heavy US bombing as part of the wider war in Indochina.

US bombing records show that at least two million metric tonnes of ordnance was dropped between 1964 and 1973. Included in this figure are 270 million submunitions – the bomblets dispersed by cluster munitions, known in Laos as bombies.

An estimated 80 million – 30 per cent – of submunitions failed to detonate and remained potentially dangerous after the end of the war. Some were dropped at loo low an altitude, meaning that the fuse didn't have time to arm, and some simply malfunctioned.

As a result of extensive ground fighting during the war, some parts of Laos are also contaminated by other types of UXO, such as artillery shells, anti-tank rockets, mortar rounds and grenades. There are also landmines, but these makes up less than one per cent of the items found.


More than 40 years since the bombing ended, UXO continues to kill and injury ordinary people. Many accidents occur as people are going about their everyday work.  

Most UXO incidents in Laos are caused by impact – for example, by farmers who hit a UXO item beneath the soil's surface while digging. Other causes of accidents include lighting fires over hidden UXO, moving items, or breaking them open in order to sell the scrap metal or explosives inside. 

Children may be tempted to play with bombies, which are the same size and shape as tennis balls, and sometimes bright yellow in colour. Also, many children are involved in the scrap metal trade.


The link between UXO contamination and poverty is striking: 41 out of the 45 poorest districts in Laos are those most affected by the contamination. Many rural communities cannot grow enough food. The land area they farm is too small but they are reluctant to expand it. Experience has told them that ploughing new fields is dangerous.

In other cases, communities would benefit economically from building basic infrastructure – such as irrigation systems that would help them grow more crops, and roads and bridges that would make it easier to sell any surplus – but are prevented from doing so safely.

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How MAG is helping in Laos

Working across Xieng Khouang and Khammouane provinces since 1994, MAG has directly helped more than 900,000 people to live safer lives, free from danger and fear. Another 2.1 million men, women and children have benefitted indirectly.*

Our teams have cleared more than 58,000,000 square metres of land in Laos, removing and destroying more than 211,000 items of UXO, including nearly 90,000 cluster submunitions (or bombies).

In addition, MAG has given more than 2,900 risk education sessions to around 194,000 people, helping them to stay safe until land is cleared.

* All figures as of 21 February 2017.

What MAG is doing in Laos

Without the funds to clear every single piece of land, MAG assesses what difference UXO clearance will make to communities, targeting the land that will most benefit each community. We often work in partnership with development organisations to ensure that cleared land is used productively.

Our Community Liaison Teams consult with community members throughout the UXO clearance process. 

Vegetation must usually be cleared before metal detectors can be used. Half-metre lanes are then marked on the ground and metal detectors are used to find the UXO hidden beneath the surface. All signals from the detector must be carefully investigated, with many readings being from shrapnel and other war scrap.

UXO must be correctly identified. Some types are designed to explode if moved or if an attempt is made to remove the fuse. Thousands of different types of ordnance, from several different countries, have been found in Laos. Most is destroyed in situ without disturbing it, but UXO that is found close to housing or other infrastructure is moved if it is safe to do so.

UXO is destroyed in controlled demolitions. Sandbags are placed around the UXO and a demolition is carried out only after all community members have been evacuated from the area. 


We do all this by employing staff locally, trained and supervised by our technical experts, so that they can do the job in safety. Our aim is to build a safe and skilled local capacity to deal with areas affected by UXO. 


Alongside the deployment of manual clearance teams, MAG implements innovative methodologies and technology, to ensure we deliver the best results and value for money. 

MAG was the first organisation in Laos to permanently deploy mechanical assets to improve efficiency by clearing vegetation, preparing ground and assisting with excavations of large aircraft-dropped bombs.

Another recent innovation introduced by MAG is Evidence Point Polygon mapping. Here, historical operational data is analysed and used to identify and map areas contaminated by UXO without the need to deploy survey teams. This speeds up the survey and clearance process, releasing safe land to those who need it the most.

In addition to land release activities, MAG delivers risk education to the people most likely to be involved in accidents, such as children or scrap metal collectors. Risk education helps communities live as safely as possible in contaminated areas until the land can be cleared permanently. 

In 2013, MAG conducted a study to investigate the impact of its work in Laos. It found that clearance led to a distinct improvement in welfare and economic status; that crop yields increased, leading to improved food security; and that, above all, people felt safer. These results reflect how MAG is making a sustainable difference in Laos.

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 Surviving the Peace: A film about devastation and hope. It follows a family in Laos whose lives were tragically altered by unexploded ordnance.

 Freedom From Fear: Meet "MAT10" (Mine Action Team 10), one of MAG's all-female bomb clearance teams ridding Laos of deadly cluster bombs.

 How to Destroy a 100lb Bomb: The removal and destruction of a white phosphorus bomb that was found in a rice field in Khammouane province. 

 Education For Life: Many areas of Laos are still contaminated by unexploded bombs that still pose the risk of exploding. Children are most at risk.