For most of us, the Vietnam War seems like a lifetime ago; however, many Vietnamese continue to battle an invisible yet lethal enemy. Undetonated cluster bombs have left 10,500 communes and 41,000 miles of the country vulnerable to explosive remnants of war. Records suggest that for every bomb dropped, 5,000 individual sub-munitions were released, 1,500 of which never detonated – leaving giant swaths of Vietnam’s terrain littered with ticking time bombs waiting to explode if disturbed.
Though Vietnamese men are aware that the pursuit of scrap metal is likely to be fatal, the lure of an immediate cash source seems worth the risk. Collectors go into hazardous territories knowing that they are most likely to find scrap metal in areas once occupied by military installations or areas which were regular targets for massive B52 bombing raids. In these areas the risk of setting off an un-detonated bomb is about 50/50.
Farmers and their families are also affected by the threats of these dormant cluster bombs. They’ve become more and more fearful of these rogue explosives and have stopped plowing and harvesting their fields, resulting in widespread poverty and starvation. Those farmers who do take the risk often are left incapacitated or killed – leaving behind a family unable to provide for themselves. Even children wander through fields collecting unexploded munitions to use as toys.
The problems are grim, but there are ways we can help. Many humanitarian agencies are dedicated to educating the public and increasing awareness about this problem. They raise funds and implement programs to help the victims and to de-mine the fields and rice paddies. I sit on the board of advisors one such group, Clear Path International. CPI is a US-based nonprofit organization with an all-Vietnamese team in country that services UXO (unexploded ordnance) and ERW (explosive remnants of war) survivors in Vietnam — as well as in Cambodia, Laos, Afghanistan and other countries. CPI’s mission is to restore the dignity and self-sufficiency of conflict survivors. We provide innovative, high-impact programming that is scalable, replicable, measurable, and cost-effective.
I strongly encourage you to visit Clear Path’s website: http://cpi.org/vietnam.html where you can learn more about our good work and, if you are so moved, help support it.
John Perkins is teaching “Shapeshifting into Leadership” and “Advanced Shapeshifting,” Aug 24-26 and 26-31, Rhinebeck NY.
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