A Silent Killer
April 04, 2021
OP-ED contributed by Palivath Inthavong, Superintendent – Project and Service Delivery, LXML on the occasion of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action Day
While fatalities from road accidents, smoking, cancer, and COVID-19 are highly visible on media platforms, deaths and injuries from UXO accidents continue to impact on communities in Lao PDR.
In 2021, Lao PDR has recorded 31 UXO accidents involving 44 injuries and eleven fatalities.
UXO work has been delayed due to the COVID-19 outbreak resulting in a higher number of casualties compared to previous years.
In perspective, Laos is the most heavily bombed country, per capita, in history. Over two million tonnes – estimated 270 million – of explosive ordinance was dropped on Laos between 1964 and 1973. Up to 30% failed to detonate, and only 1% has been removed or destroyed since 1996. That is why Lao PDR has its own Sustainable Development Goal, SDG 18 on ‘lives safe from UXO’.
Sepon mine in Vilabouly District of Savannakhet Province, is situated in one of the most bombed districts in Laos. That is why Lane Xang Minerals Limited has been integrating UXO clearance as part of our mining operational cycle to ensure employees, community, and our operation are safe from UXO incidents. LXML has a dedicated internationally certified UXO team that clears these silent killers from exploration, before civil engineering and mining phase through to supporting our community development projects and instilling knowledge about the danger of UXO to our host and local community.
Over the last decade, the golden rule for the UXO Team is to not dismantle or unnecessarily remove UXOs. They must be destroyed where they are found. Everyone in our team understands the high risk associated with our work. Incidents can happen anytime if we don’t follow technical standards. Any mistake can mean a loss of life. There is no time for second chances so we must take care to ensure our teams are well trained and experienced to carry out this dangerous work. The team has achieved a milestone of five years injury free performing UXO clearance activities.
Since 1996, LXML has invested US$52 million in UXO clearance and destroyed nearly 60,000 items, of which 90% of these are UXOs – ready to explode on impact. In 2021 alone, 1,368 unsafe items were destroyed and over 7 million square metres of land was cleared of UXO. LXML has recently extended a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Lao Ministry of Defence. This long-term partnership supports UXO clearance around Sepon mine and enhances technical capacity for the benefit of future generations. Testing new UXO clearance methods and technology continues in partnership with the Lao Ministry of Defence.
LXML is continuing to work closely with local communities and government authorities to detect and destroy UXO surrounding our operations to make everyone safer.