Between 1964 and 1973 the US army dropped over two million tons of ordnance on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. Of the more than 270 million sub-munitions, 80 million failed to explode. The nightmare continues to this day: one person is killed or injured almost everyday by unexploded ordinances (UXO) in Laos. The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) is a non-profit based in Vientiane that runs rehabilitation centres aiming to provide care and support to UXO survivors, including orthotic and prosthetic devices and physiotherapy.
The COPE visitor centre in Vientiane is a thought-provoking and understandably solemn place. It is also a place that shows not only the worst side of human nature, but also the best. As well as documentaries about the ongoing effects of UXOs, a collection of items that Laos villagers have made from shell casings (a common activity and one that has caused many injuries and fatalities over the years as villagers don’t understand how dangerous some of these things are), and a display of mini-bombs hanging from the ceiling, there’s a lot of information about how various organisations are trying to clear the remaining ordnance. Best estimate at the moment is that only 1% has been cleared so far.