The Government of the United States of America and the Government of Norway have continued their long-term commitments to supporting the unexploded ordnance (UXO) sector in Lao PDR, with a combined total of over USD $9.1 million committed to Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) to support survey and clearance operations in four southern provinces of Lao PDR.

The following Memorandum of Agreement (MOU)amendment was approved by the Lao PDR Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 30 May 2022 and signed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare’s National Regulatory Authority for the UXO Sector (NRA)and NPA in Vientiane on 10June 2022, valid until 31 March 2023. The MOU totals do not include donor contributions for costs of certain administration fees, as per Lao government MOU instructions.

Positively, funding from the United States government to support UXO survey and clearance in Lao PDR has increased again in 2022, up from the total funding awarded in 2021. Under a generous grant, NPA is receiving USD $8,500,000 from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs for the period 1 January – 15 February 2023.

Additionally, NPA is receiving NOK 7 million from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NOK 350,000 from Fagforbundet, the Norwegian General Union for Municipal Employees, in 2022.

This increase will enable NPA to continue to expand their survey and clearance operations across Lao PDR’s southern provinces. This will accelerate the pace of vital life-saving work to remove the threat of cluster munitions and other UXO and bring socio-economic benefits to thousands of families in hundreds of villages in Attapeu, Champasak, Saravane, and Sekong provinces.

The increased U.S. funding is also providing job opportunities and employment for over 430 people in NPA’s areas of operations and its support functions.

The official induction ceremony, held in Saravane province on Jul 8, 2022, was attended by Vice Governor of Saravan Mr. Somchai Ounchit, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Deputy Head of the INGO division, Mr. Chanthala Vannahong, Deputy Director General of the National Regulatory Authority for the UXO Sector (NRA), Mr. DouangsyThammavong, the Head of the Planning and International Cooperation department of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Mr. Thipphasone Soukathammavong, and other distinguished representatives from the provincial authorities of Attapeu, Champassak, Saravan, and Sekong provinces.

Mr. P. Daniel O’Hara, Head of the Political and Economic Affairs Section and Acting Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane reaffirmed his country’s commitment to supporting the UXO sector, saying “On behalf of the United States, I thank Norwegian People’s Aid for your extensive survey efforts. To date, NPA has surveyed more than 672 villages in Saravan, Sekong, Attapeu and Champassak provinces. These surveys enable humanitarian clearance operators to more accurately and effectively target areas for clearance. This is particularly important as our collective UXO work shifts focus from surveying to clearing high priority Confirmed Hazardous Areas”.

Ambassador Grete Løchen, Ambassador of Norway to Vietnam, who also oversees Norwegian diplomatic affairs in the Lao PDR, relayed her remarks. “I am very pleased that the MOU is signed today. NPA is a valuable partner of the Norwegian Government in mine action activities at the global level and has been active in Laos since 2009. NPA has a long history of survey and clearance both in Laos and in the whole region. With its unique approach and the priority on capacity-building of both national and local authorities, NPA can use the funding under this MOU and prioritise their operational budget for the activities to assist the Lao PDR in creating an effective, efficient and sustainable national capacity in mine action efforts and thus contributing to Laos’ post-Covid economic recovery”, said Grete Løchen, Ambassador of Norway to Vietnam accredited to Lao PDR.

Clearance of cluster munitions and other UXO is critical to improving the lives and livelihoods of people living in the Lao PDR, as projects conducted by NPA will benefit those most at-risk living in areas with the highest amount of contamination. This will allow Lao people to use their land without fear of injury or death from UXO.

Cluster munition contamination in the Lao PDR is amongst the highest in the world when measured against the population, and extensive contamination poses a risk to the livelihoods, socio-economic development and quality of life of those living in affected communities. The U.S. Government and the Government of Norway have shown significant, ongoing commitment to assisting the Lao PDR in reducing the impacts of unexploded cluster munitions and in meeting its obligations under the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). This funding will support the development of the National Regulatory Authority for the UXO Sector (NRA) in their long-term management and regulation of mine action activities in the Lao PDR.

NPA will implement survey and clearance activities in Attapeu, Champasak, Saravane and Sekong provinces. Under this MOU, NPA expects to clear close to 11.3 sqkm of high priority confirmed contaminated areas and survey an additional 5.3 sqkm to identify additional potential contamination from UXO. Over 3,480 people are expected to directly benefit from these activities, and over 430 Lao people will be employed across 140 villages, in 21 districts in 4 southern provinces of the Lao PDR including support function staffing from other provinces.

Source: Lao News Agency