This paper presents the findings of a mine risk assessment undertaken in the Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR). More than thirty years after the Second Indochina War, the Lao PDR remains heavily contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), the result of nine years of intense aerial bombing and sustained land battles. This UXO contamination continues to pose a threat to affected populations and while there is no nationwide UXO injury surveillance system, available statistics suggest that UXO injuries due to both voluntary and involuntary exposure to live ordnance are increasing.
The study presented here aimed to identify people at risk, determinants of risk behaviour, and what Humanitarian Mine Action and Mine Risk Education programmes can do about it. A knowledge, attitude and practice (KAP) survey was carried out in five of the most UXO contaminated provinces. A multi-stage cluster sampling and probability proportional to size design was used to determine the sampling size with random sampling used to identify the sampling frame. Respondents included men, women and children, most of whom were subsistence rice farmers. The KAP survey was followed by qualitative interviews in two provinces with respondents selected based on the characteristics of at-risk sub-groups identified in the KAP.
The study found that almost all respondents were potentially exposed to UXO risk on a regular basis and that most often this exposure was deliberate and voluntary with respondents aware of the risk. Key risk behaviours included foraging for scrap metal, including UXO, as a form of cash income and removing items of UXO from farmland. Determinants of risk behaviours were primarily economic. The paper concludes by suggesting that in order to reduce UXO risk, a shift in emphasis by Mine Action operators from zero risk and risk avoidance to risk reduction is required.