Some children from Binh Dinh know exactly how to avoid mine and bomb accidents. Others do not. Since the end of the war in Viet Nam, and according to Government estimates, more than 40,000people have been victims of the explosives left behind over the last three decades[i]. Today, the youth is determined to be the first generation to break with the deadly legacy of war. To do that, UNDP supports them in finding creative ways to convey mine risk messages, to protect themselves, their families and other children.
While the war in Viet Nam officially ended 44 years ago, Viet Nam continues to suffer from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) left behind. Roughly 18% of Viet Nam’s land area remains contaminated with landmines and ERW and lives continue to be lost[ii]. The Korea-Viet Nam Mine Action Project supports the Government’s efforts to fight this problem through surveying and clearing contaminated land. Nonetheless, due to the overwhelming scope of the problem, Viet Nam cannot expect to be minefree for decades to come.
Therefore, while the Government of Viet Nam is finding out which lands are safe and which are not, there is a need to inform civilians on how to live a life with the bombs.
Every year, lives and limbs are lost due to lack of awareness and misinformation about the risks of old explosives and how to operate safely around them. Tragically, there are even stories of young children finding old ball-shaped cluster munitions or “bombies”, playing with them or bringing them to school to show their friends. Statistics show that children now make up almost half of all civilian mine casualties around the world. These deadly and devastating accidents can be prevented by equipping local populations with the necessary knowledge on how to protect themselves. Mine risk education (MRE) is therefore an indispensable component of mine action and a core activity in the Korea-Vietnam Mine Action Project (KVMAP).
“Practically speaking, it is difficult and time-consuming to make mine and UXO free land, thus, it is important to prevent accidents from happening by raising awareness on mine and UXO”, Ms. Cho, Deputy Country Director of the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) explains, representing the main donor of the KVMAP.
In Binh Dinh province where 40% of land is contaminated with explosives[iii], specialists from the Vietnamese army are surveying and clearing contaminated areas with technical support from UNDP. Meanwhile, only a few kilometers away from this, 700 children and youth were gathered to mark the International Day of Mine Awareness on 4 April. They participated in MRE to learn how to avoid mine accidents until the day comes when all the land is safe to access.
Huynh Nga, a 21-year old university student had her own personal reasons for volunteering: “My grandfather is a UXO victim. His shoulder, eye and belly were severely injured by the accident (…) This day means that everyone works together to handle what's left. I want to help people affected by mines and ERW,” she said hoping that the tragedy to her family will never be repeated.
While clearance will ensure a mine free Binh Dinh within decades, the children and youth are determined to ensure a mine victim free Binh Dinh today. “This is why it is so important that you [the children] are here today. So that you can teach us how to take care of ourselves and of each other. You can learn and then teach others on how to avoid accidents and to lead safe and peaceful lives”, said Catherine Phuong, UNDP Assistant Resident Representative in Viet Nam, as she welcomed children to a day oflevity and gravity.
Over the past year, 4,500 local people, mostly children, benefitted from KVMAP’s MRE sessions. To try and innovate MRE, some of these children were invited to use their creativity to become community awareness raisers themselves. Showcasing their newly acquired mine risk knowledge, they competed in conveying hard facts and high hopes for their future in beautiful drawings to raise the awareness of their friends, families and neighbors.
“I drew the soldiers and the local people together clearing the munitions left from the war. Although I have never seen mines and ERW, I have seen people injured by mines and ERW”, said 10-year old Ngoc.
Besides the drawing competition, Youth Union volunteers taught basic mine risk knowledge by quizzing the eager crowd of primary school pupils. “When you discover a strange thing in the ground, what should you do?”, the youth volunteer enthusiastically enquired. An ocean of waving hands rose above the crowd of small caps with the KVMAP logo: “You should leave it and go tell an adult” a small voice wisely answered. This was followed by questions such as how to recognize an old pineapple bomb, and how it might feel to become a victim of a mine accident.
Is teaching 8-12-year-old children about deadly bombs a little too harsh? The parents to the children in Binh Dinh initially seemed to think so and were reluctant to bring their children to the event, says Cong, another Youth Union volunteer. “But, when the parents observed that the children participated, they understood the meaning of the morning activities. Let the children understand the harms of mines and ERW. Know how to protect themselves” he explained. After witnessing their children delving into expressive drawings and raising their hands, eager to answer questions in the quiz, the parents changed their minds, she explained.
Even the experienced KVMAP managers were surprised by the creativeness and engagement of the children on such a difficult topic. “They have better knowledge than I expected. They know of the risks of mines and UXOs and they know the messages that we are trying to communicate through the project, so, it is very encouraging” said Ms. Cho from KOICA.
Nonetheless, the children in the event remain an exception. Most of Binh Dinh’s population still lack knowledge of how to safeguard against accidents. A “knowledge, attitude and practice” (KAP) survey presented by UNDP, shows that only one third of those who encountered risky situations were able to demonstrate safe behaviors towards mines.
Cong explained how people are misinformed and might act reckless in the pursuit of valuable scrap metals and explosives from the old bombs: “I am from the Hoai Nhon district, in Binh Dinh. When I was a child, more than 10 years ago, I was eating lunch at noon when I heard a “boom”. Back then people sawed bombs tosell the explosives in it”. To Cong, MRE is needed for all parts of the community, especially scrap merchants and poor people who might search for old explosives in the mountainous areas that have not yet been cleared.
Living in an area with severe contamination, he is faced with the everyday threat of unexploded ordnance. “Currently, Hoai Nhon is still unclear of mines and ERW. My house is there so I know. Occasionally, when I go to scrap merchants’ houses, there are still old bombs and mines there”.
The Korea-Vietnam Mine Action Project will survey Hoai Nhon during 2019 for landmines and ERW. Furthermore, the Project will continue investing in mine risk education and especially, encouraging children and youth to be educators themselves when returning to their families and communities.
One day the mine fields of Binh Dinh and other provinces will become playing fields again. This may take decades, even a century, and Nga, Ngoc and Cong may not be the first generation to experience a Viet Nam free from mines. But they should be the first to experience a Viet Nam free from mine accidents.
[i] Viet Nam Mine Action Center, 2018: Report on explosive remnants of war contamination in Viet Nam based on the “Viet Nam explosive remnants of war contamination survey and mapping- Phase I” project.
[iii] Viet Nam Mine Action Center, 2018: Report on explosive remnants of war contamination in Viet Nam based on the “Viet Nam explosive remnants of war contamination survey and mapping- Phase I” project.