Deadly Recycling. How Kids in Laos Gather Explosive War Scrap to Put to Use.

recycled metal cup made from UXO in Laos© Petz Scholtus

Recycling is usually a good thing. However, in some places, it costs people's lives because what they try to recycle is dangerous; it explodes. The cup above and the spoon below might seem harmless at first but these everyday objects are in fact made from UXO. COPE explains:

UXOs are explosive weapons that failed to detonate when they were fired, dropped, launched or projected, and still pose a risk of exploding. In Lao PDR, there are a range of UXOs contaminating the countryside, including large bombs, rockets, grenades, artillery munitions, mortars, landmines and cluster munitions.

People, often children, try to earn extra money by collecting UXOs hidden in the countryside and by selling it on as scrap metal or harvesting their explosive materials for fishing, risking their lives on a daily bases. UXO incidents in Laos alone lead to an estimated 300 casualties a year.

On a recent trip to Laos, I visited COPE (Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise) in Vientiane, who offer rehabilitation services across the whole country to people in need. Their visitor center tells the stories of UXO victims and the history of the 270 million cluster bombs dropped on the Lao PDR during the time of the Vietnam War, of which it is estimated that up to 30% (80 million) failed to detonate and continue to pose a threat.

In the village of Ban Napia near Phonsavan, villagers are re-using UXO war scrap to make spoons to be sold as souvenirs. The war scrap has been made safe beforehand by UXO Lao. This community based project named Ban Napia Spoons, provides valuable income for the villagers. The Peace Bomb Bracelet project works the same way, turning bombs into jewelry.

Everyday, children and adults wander into the countryside to find metal, like bomblets and weapons from the second Indochina war, to sell as scrap metal or souvenirs to tourists, or to turn into useful objects, only if they don't explode beforehand. The everyday metal objects skillfully made from recycled clusterbombs make you marvel at them and step back horrified at the same time. COPE asks people not to buy such objects from people in the streets in order to discourage the unmonitored collecting of UXO. Instead, visit COPE's web site to support their work helping people who lost their mobility through accidents and check if your country signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions to help clean countries of existing cluster bombs and prevent future use of the same.

Related Content on