Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Phonsevan, Laos and the Plain of Jars

It's cold here! Being up in the mountains at the coldest time of year is not quite what I expected from SE Asia.  I'm only about 100 miles straight line from the southern border of China so what did I expect?  I'm not sure really.

We came to see the Plain of Jars - 2,000 year old limestone jars scattered all over this province and nobody knows why they are here, what they were used for, or who made them.  They are anywhere from 2ft to 8ft tall and some weight over 2 tons.  They've survived being in the most heavily bombed region in the world which took place during the "secret" war from 1964-73 when the US dropped millions of tons of bombs here to try to route out the Communists and keep the Vietcong from using the hills as hideouts.  Laos and a few NGOs are trying to get them recognized as UNESCO world heritage sites, but first they all have to be de-mined and cleared of UXO - unexploded ordinance.

There are a lot of people missing their limbs and more who are dead from the 30% of the munitions which failed to explode but remained active and explosive.  People can't cultivate even half of the arable land here which leaves them starving and impoverished, because they risk finding and triggering UXO which would leave them mortally wounded or dead.  People consistently find the remnants of cluster munitions laying about (about the size of a baseball) and kids who don't know any better often play with them, eventually causing them to explode.  It's just such a wonderful legacy that we should all know about but like to neglect, the war was not just in Vietnam but arguably more so in Cambodia in Laos (by volume of ordinance dropped).

This NGO - Mines Advisory Group is a great example of what's being done to help, but unfortunately at the current rate of clearance it could take up to 100 years!

That's all, I'm done freezing my ass off and going to go find a motorbike to ride to get even colder!

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