Between 1964 and 1973, during its “secret war” in Laos, the United States [ht: ja] dropped more than two million tons of bombs—the heaviest aerial bombardment in history.
Most of the munitions dropped were cluster bombs, which splinter before impact, spreading hundreds of smaller bomblets — known locally as “bombies.”
To this day, less than 1% of the bombs have been removed, according to US-based NGO Legacies of War, which is spearheading the campaign to clear them.
“We were all but forgotten here,” says the Laos-born founder of Legacies of War, Channapha Khamvongsa.
But the people of Laos can’t forget, as the “secret war” is still claiming victims.
More than 20,000 people have been killed or maimed by the unexploded ordnance (UXOs) since the war ended, and currently, 50 people are maimed or killed every year.
Around 40% of those are children.
“(The bombies) are tennis ball sized weapons,” Khamvongsa says. “The children often mistake the bombs for toys, and pick them up and throw them around. This is often the cause of an explosion.”
Farmers are also among the worst affected, as the poorest are forced to toil the mine-laden fields to feed their families.
“Eighty percent of people rely on their land to grow food in Laos,” Khamvongsa says. “So they still use their land even at the risk of their own lives.”<
As Santi Suthiinithet (pdf) explains, the total of U.S. bombs dropped on Laos
is the equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years—nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos.
It is more than all the bombs dropped on Europe throughout World War II, leaving Laos, a country approximately the size of Utah, with the unfortunate distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history.