In the four decades since the war in Vietnam ended, at least 40,000 people have been killed and 66,000 injured by mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). Last year, 42 people died, 15 of them children. Unexploded mines and bombs represent a high risk to children, who are less wary of the dangers.
Vietnam already has the funds (200 million dollars) to clear mines from 500,000 hectares in 14 provinces. This work, to be carried out by 2015, will free up the use of nearly 8 percent of affected land. But the Vietnamese government would like to do a lot more. In a statement reported by Reuters, the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung spoke of the country’s appreciation for the continuation of “valuable help and support from the international community to overcome the consequences of bombs and mines left from the war”.
Experts believe it could take hundreds of years to clear all the unexploded devices across Vietnam. Around 20 per cent of the country’s total area is affected, with the poor central region particularly heavily mined and bombed. Despite launching an action programme last year to use the latest demining techniques and raise awareness among communities, the sheer number of unexploded devices means more casualties, particularly of field workers and children, are unavoidable.
In many cases, the type of explosive device concerned in incidents cannot be determined. But at least 2,000 casualties in Vietnam have involved cluster munition remnants. Cluster weapons such as bombs or shells often scatter hundreds of smaller submunitions across a wide area in order to clear an enemy from the battlefield. However, some bomblets do not explode. Remaining on the ground, these maim and kill many civilians in the decades following.
In the week that Vietnam asked for more help to clear such deadly leftovers, it was disappointing to witness the international community fail in their attempts to curb cluster devices. 111 states have signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions to ban the use of these weapons. However, many key nations, including Israel, Russia and the United States, have not joined up to this legally-binding treaty. Such states were in talks about registering cluster munition stockpiles, so that at least there was some regulation over the number of devices held by countries. But the talks broke down when the United States suggested allowing for a change if higher standard weapons were introduced in the future. Now there seems little prospect of curtailing the number of cluster bombs in use by these key nations. Therefore, stray bomblets which remain after any conflicts will continue to end or ruin the lives of many innocent civilians and their children.