Village workers help U.S. Air Force members clear trees and brush from a Vietnam War-era crash site in the Boualapha province of Laos in 2007.
Last week, delegates from dozens of countries traveled to Beirut to talk about Laos, where decades after the Vietnam War there are still an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs scattered across fields and forests.
Each year, the live remnants of U.S. cluster bombs kill or injure 300 Laotians, many of them children. And the bombs are of particular danger to farmers, who risk their lives every time they plow a new plot.
The delegates convened to try to persuade other nations to join a year-old international treaty to rid the world of stockpile cluster munitions. But the U.S., the nation that rained cluster bombs on Laos so many years ago and, according to some authorities, the largest producer of the deadly devices, did not join the conference in Lebanon and has declined to sign the treaty. —BF
Liangkham Laphommavong has one of the world’s most dangerous jobs.
Her 9-year-old son knows this and protested when, at the start of a recent morning, Laphommavong set off to join a crew of 17 other women who routinely put their lives at risk.
Throughout Laos, people like Laphommavong tramp into bucolic rice paddies, woods and rolling hills—landscapes that belie the hazards of their jobs. Laphommavong is a bomb sweeper, covering terrain, inch by perilous inch, in search of unexploded ordnance.
There are an estimated 80 million unexploded bombs scattered around Laos—still-lethal remnants of a secret war against communists waged by U.S. forces four decades ago.