COPE center in Vientiane

A few minutes walk outside the central business district in Vientiane is the COPE visitor centre.  The COPE Center (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise)  is the national rehabilitation centre. Cope is the only place in Laos that provides Orthotics and Rehabilitation. While the focus is on the bomb victims they also provide services for accident victims, children born with club foot and polio sufferers. Cope Centre

Laos has been called the most bombed nation on earth. Without getting into the politics of the situation, here is some information about the bombing of Laos:

  • Between 1964 and 1973 the USA flew 580,000 bombing runs into Laos – one every 9 minutes for nearly 10 years. These were done in secret and most Americans did not know this had happened.
  • 2 million tonnes of ordnance was dropped – more than all the bombs dropped during WWII.
  • The bombing was designed to cut North Vietnamese supply lines – bypassing the demilitarised zone that separated north and south Vietnam.
  • Of the 260 million bombies dropped (sub-munitions of cluster bombs) 30% did not detonate -> UXO = unexploded objects.
  • Since 1996 16 square miles has been cleared of bombs in a country of 90,000 square miles. The are over 1,000 people currently doing clearing work
  • According to a report in the Guardian Newspaper currently the USA gives on average $3 million a year for UXO clearing initiatives in Laos. It goes on to say “The US spent more than $2m a day (about $17m in today’s dollars) for nine years dropping the bombs in the first place.”

[ info sources:
these last 2 newspaper articles are interesting reading]

The visitor centre has displays and stories about the bombs and the effect on the local population. It could have been a depressing place, but it wasn’t. The displays are not sophisticated or flashy – but what they say is moving and informative.

One interactive display that was particularly effective was a mirror box.  This was the was simple, but effective experience of phantom limbs.  It is hard to explain – you need to experience it.

NZ has played a role here in clearing UXO’s.  This has been recognised at the entrance to the Plain of Jars in Phonsavan province.

Each year people continue to be hurt or killed by these UXOs – on average over 300 a year.  Almost half of these tend to be children.  A lot of work is going into village education to teach people not to touch the bombies and the dangers involved.  But it is obviously hard work stopping curious children.  On top of curiosity is the fact the scrap metal can be sold to make money for poor families and there is an industry in cutting the metal up to make jewellery/souvenirs for tourists.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Gosh that makes for some very interesting and sobering reading. The US has a LOT to answer for what was done in that part of Asia. So sad that Laos just happened to be caught in the middle of it all.

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