Bomb Hunters

Bomb Hunters

Children looking for scrap metal

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During the nine years of the Vietnam War the US dropped more cluster bombs on neighbouring Laos than it did world wide during the whole of World War Two.

It is estimated that the bombing in Laos equated to a B52 load of cluster bombs dropped every 8 minutes for 9 years, this totals to 260 million bombs being dropped between 1964 and 1973.

Since the 1990s an official clearance operation has been in place but they say that more than 80 million unexploded ordnance (UXO) or cluster bombs still litter the countryside.

With the global increase in the demand for steel, led largely by Chinese expansion, this has driven up the price of scrap metal and unexploded ordinance is now a very valuable asset.

In this documentary, Angela Robson travelled around the province of Xieng Khoang, where scrap metal yards have become the new fields of gold.

The people of Laos have utilised the metal from UXO for the past 30 years.

In Phonsavan, the fences of peoples' houses are made of shell casings.

Unexploded cluster bombs are also forged into axes, sickles, cow bells, rice cookers, belt buckles, boats and ladders.

One particular cluster bomb with a tripod-shaped fin is commonly fitted with a light bulb and used as a lamp.

However, this familiarity has proven lethal.

People have grown up with cluster bombs in their homes - so when they see them in the forest, in fields and on the mountainsides they do not anticipate the danger.

Cheap metal detectors can be bought for less than $12 (US dollars) and are encouraging trade.

Children as well as adults scavenge many places for scrap and as a result, almost half of the deaths from UXO in Laos are of children.

It is illegal and often deadly work but is so much more lucrative than most other forms of employment, that many citizens are turning to bomb hunting just to keep food on the table.

You can read more about Laos in Angela Robson's article in Le Monde diplomatique's English edition here.

First broadcast Friday 13th June.

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