A nun visiting Nguyen Vinh Thoai
To see a picture gallery of a Catholic landmine relief effort in neighboring Cambodia, click here.
Unexploded ordnance left over from wars in Vietnam's Thua Thien-Hue province are still claiming lives and causing injuries. Yet some local people risk life and limb in order to scrape a livelihood from it. "I used to collect 30 kg of military supplies and materials from the hills every day," says 32-year-old Nguyen Vinh Thoai. "By selling it as scrap metal, I was making 200,000 dong (US$10) to support my family. I was hoping to save enough money to build a house in the future." Then last June, almost inevitably, Thoai lost his left foot while trying to defuse a bomb. “I was given medical treatment at a local hospital for six months and now I can't do anything because the wound still hurts,” he says. Now his wife has become the family breadwinner, working on a farm. Their family and 12 other relatives all live in his parents’ house, which measures 48 sq.m. "I used to collect unexploded ordnance to sell, so I could support my aged parents," says another victim, Ngo Thi Boi. "But I lost one eye and my left arm while I was removing the rust and mud from a mine I'd pulled out of a river. I didn't realize it was a mine until it exploded.” A recurring series of wars and military engagements ravaged this province for decades. Even though hostilities abated in the 1970s, the local authorities estimate that 500,000 hectares of land in the region are still covered by unexploded ordnance. Nationally, it is thought that the deadly detritus can be found over as much as 6.6 million hectares. And although rates have tapered off slightly in recent times, there are still around 1,370 related accidents per year, killing or injuring more than 3,800 people. With the help of numerous NGOs and charities, the effort to safely remove the ordnance is ongoing, but it is a mammoth task. So far, only 300,000 hectares of contaminated land have been cleared. With an annual de-mining rate of around 20,000 hectares, it will take another 300 years to complete the clearance across the whole country, at an estimated cost of more than $10 billion.