UXO Team, Laos....saving lives every day.

In March I travelled to Laos to take photographs for a football charity. The charity uses football to engage with school kids and  teaches them of the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Laos was the most bombed country ever with the United States dropping US$2m worth of bombs daily from 1964 to 1973 in the so-called 'secret war'. That is an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes over a nine year period...more ordnance than was dropped by all sides in WWII. 

UXO are a daily hazard for the people of Laos with regular injuries and deaths. Children can often find bits of metal in the ground and not realise what they are. The results can be deadly. In fact half of the 13,000 people killed by UXO have been young boys; so the work that Spirit of Soccer do is essential in saving lives.

Spirit of Soccer hooked me up with another group who save lives on a daily basis. I spent a morning with the UXO Lao team who are responsible for finding and destroying unexploded ordnance. To date this national organisation has dealt with 400,000 UXO.

The team were working in a paddy field about the size of a football pitch where the farmer has found UXO every year. After two days of looking they had already found 10 UXO. 

UXO marked by red dots in the farmer's paddy field.

UXO Laos Provincial Coordinator Kingphet Phimmavong and a shell packed with 'bombies'. Of the 260m 'bombies that rained down, 80m failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy. 

 Thousands of unexploded shells are dug up each year in Laos.

Thousands of unexploded shells are dug up each year in Laos.

The initial search is with a large detector. If this machine finds something metal then another member of the team locates it with a more sensitive metal detector. He then digs down to find the metal object; a job that requires nerves of steel and steady hands.

Once the object is identified as a UXO then it is marked with a large green bag filled with clay. When the team are ready to destroy a number of UXO together they place TNT in each hole and then run a cable back to the detonator several hundred metres away. 

Having warned the local area of of the impending explosion with a loud hailer, and with three of the team positioned on high ground, acting as lookouts, the TNT is detonated which destroys the UXO.

I witnessed two sets of UXO being destroyed. It was unlike anything I've seen before with the shock of the explosion going through me, even thought the explosions were quite a distance away.

The UXO team risk their lives every day to save others. The are incredibly cautious but even so there is always a high risk, especially when initially identifying the UXOs. It was huge privilege to meet these brave people and witness their courage.