26/1/2009 – The dark side of South East Asia

I think it`s only fair to give a rounded view of a place or any subject for that matter. If you have read my previous blog entries you will know that I am very fond of the countries that I have visited so far on my trip. However I think that more context needs to be given to understand these countries and their people.

Quote taken from Lonely Planet `South East Asia on a Shoestring`

“Between 1964 and 1973, the USA conducted one of the largest sustained aerial bombardments in history, flying 580,344 missions over Laos, and dropping two million tons of bombs, costing US$2.2 million a day. Around 30% of the bombs dropped on Laos failed to detonate, leaving the country littered wit unexploded ordinance (UXO).

For people all over eastern Laos (the most contaminated provinces are Xieng Khaung, Salavan and Savannakhet), living with this appalling legacy has become an intrinsic part of daily life. Since the British Mines Advisory Group (MAG) began clearance work in 1994, only a tiny percentage of the quarter of a million pieces in Xieng Khaung and Salavan has been removed.”

“American MIA (Missing in Action) recovery missions have long given up hope of finding bearded waifs limping around bamboo jungle compounds. Instead, the MIA programme visits Laos for three months a year to try and recover the interred bones of their soldiers, but not without considerable expense (US$30 million per year). Considering Laos is carpeted in dense `boonies` forest (more than 10% of its total land mass), this makes for slow and difficult work.

In contrast, the money the US donates to Laos to help with the UXO problem it created is a paltry sum rumoured to be less than US$5 million per year. Whilst this might enrage the reader, historically, attempts to financially salve the wound were rejected by the ever dogmatic Lao Government – there was also the possibility the money would never find its way to the right places. Instead, the US sends mine detection apparatus – lots of it. As one anonymous mine-clearance NGO said, `there are rooms full of metal detectors just sitting there. We`ve got more than we need. “

 to be continued….

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