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An education

sunny 16 °C
View Great Escape to the East! on Tam-Jo's travel map.

Most of our day was spent travelling to Phonsavan on extremelly hilly and windy roads in a minivan with next to no legroom (and this coming from two girls who have very short legs!). We did stop for some chicken fried rice on the way though which was lovely.

On arriving into Phonsavan, we were greeted by lots of young men waving signs for various guesthouses in the town. We saw a sign for ours so we jumped in the van! On being asked if we were staying in the hotel or the guesthouse, we assumed it was the guesthouse based on our stingy budget. We should have been wary at this stage when one of the guys was saying how it was extra cheap! He grabbed our key and showed us to our room. The first thing to hit us was the smell. It smelt like toilet. No joke. And the room was awful...the sheets looked like they hadn't been cleaned in weeks...the towel looked like it hadn't been cleaned ever...we felt dirty just standing in it (bearing in mind our standards have dropped considerably after travelling for over three months!). The doubt then started to creep in as to whether this was in fact the place that Jo had booked. We were supposed to be paying more than $10 for the room, which in Laos should get a decent (ish) place, so we were confused. They didn't take our name when we walked in (even though we had booked in advance and had paid a deposit) and the name on the front of the guesthouse was slightly different to the sign the guy was holding up and to that on our booking confirmation. Something wasn't quite right!

Jo had noticed that there was a hotel across the road with the same name to the guesthouse where we had been dropped so we hatched a plan to run across there to check if they had a booking under our name. Because of the language barrier, this was not easy to determine but they did have a twin room for the price on our booking confirmation so we took it! Phase two of the plan...retrieve our belongings from the dodgy guesthouse across the road! This was surprisingly easy and within ten minutes we were in our new room which looks like it may have actually been cleaned within the last month! Score!

001_UXO_s_.._Phonsavahn.jpg 002_UXO_s_.._Phonsavahn.jpg

We spent a couple of hours this evening at the MAG office here in Phonsavan. MAG is the Mines Advisory Group which is a UK based charity which among other things, is working in Laos to clear unexploded ordance (UXO) and help people living in affected areas to live more safely. Whilst Jo and I were both aware that Laos had been affected during the Vietnam war and that unexploded devices in the country from this time are still causing a problem, neither of us had any idea of the sheer scale of it. Some of the things we have learnt:
- Laos is the most bombed country on the planet.
- More than two million tons of ordance was dropped on Laos by the US during the Second Indochina War (Vietnam War) between 1964 and 1973 which is more than the US dropped on both Germany and Japan combined in WW2.
- This bombing of Laos is known as the Secret War. The US bombed Laos in secret and in direct vioation to the 1954 Geneva Accords and 1962 Geneva Conventions which prohibited the presence of foreign military in Laos as it was declared independent and neutral.
- There were more than 580,000 bombing missions on Laos during the Vietnam War which is equivalent to one bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years.
- More than 270 million cluster munitions were used, of which an estimated 80 million malfunctioned and have remained in the ground since (it is estimated that 30% of all ordanance did not detonate on impact).
- Of the ordanance which failed to detonate, only around 1% have been cleared to date. The rest remains in the ground.
- Approximately 25% of of the country's villages are contaminated with UXO.
- There have been around 300 new casualties annually over the last decade from UXO.
- Over the last decade around 40% of these casualties have been children.
- UXO are contributing to poverty in Laos by preventing new land from being developed.
- At the current rate, it will take another 150 years before the people of Laos are safe from UXO.

We also watched an hour long documentary which highlighted some of the issues we had read about at the centre. It was difficult to watch at points but it really highlighted to us the issues which Laos is facing even now as a result of something which happened four decades ago.

If any of you would like to read more about what MAG do all over the world, have a look at their website: www.maginternational.org

Tam xx

Posted by Tam-Jo 19:45 Archived in Laos Tagged phonsavanh

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