July 30, 2014

Laos, US Legacy, and Unexploded Ordnance

For decades, Laos’ economic development and relationship with the United States has been strained by unexploded ordnance (UXO), a legacy of the Vietnam War.
Roughly 30 percent of the two million tons of bombs that the United States dropped in Laos during the Vietnam War failed to detonate on impact. To date, only about one percent of affected land has been cleared and over twenty-thousand people have been killed or injured by UXO since 1975.
However, in January 2014, Congress allocated $12 million in funding towards UXO assistance programs in Laos as part of the omnibus spending bill, four times the average annual UXO budget from 1995-2013. This creates an opportunity for the United States to address a key flashpoint in U.S.-Lao relations while making strategic development inroads with the largest single benefactor of Chinese investment in the region.
Since the end of the bombing in 1975, the United States has provided $74 million in UXO assistance in Laos, with forty-percent allocated in the last five years.
Laos receives an annual $4 billion from China in mining, hydropower, and agricultural investments.

U.S. assistance towards improving UXO clearance efficiency will focus on providing better technology and training programs, assistance for families and victims, as well as developing the capacity of national institutions to absorb this assistance.
In previous years, clearance operators reduced cluster bomb related casualties from an average of roughly 300 per year to 41 in 2013. The increase of resources, if leveraged efficiently, can bolster these efforts and set the stage for significant economic development in the country.
There is a long road ahead – or rather very little road. UXO cover half of the country, and as a result only about 53 percent of national roads and 3 percent of local roads are paved. Additionally, there is no national or transnational railway system, and roughly 40 percent of villages and 10 percent of district centers lack road access during the rainy season. Clearing land from UXOs alone add 30 to 40 cents in cost per square meter of road creation.  As a result, large segments of the population remain isolated from basic social services.
UXO has also impacted critical investments in institutional infrastructure including schools, hospitals, water supply facilities, and power plants as scarce public funds are diverted to clearance efforts. The result has been a slew of development challenges that plague Laos, including falling literacy rates (from 89 percent in 2005 to 77 percent in 2012), poor access to clean water and sanitation, and an inconsistent supply of power.
The proliferation of UXO in Laos has stunted development efforts and prevented the creation of infrastructure needed to attract and absorb foreign investment. For example, the World Bank’s 2014 Doing Business Indicators  estimates that it costs an additional $1,155 to ship a container across a border from Laos than it does to ship one from Cambodia. In addition, investors surveyed complained that even with low-wages, poor physical and institutional infrastructure, and a poorly educated workforce make the labor force uncompetitive compared to neighboring countries like Cambodia.
UXO also severely hampers Lao agricultural productivity and contributes to persistent food crises as farmers are unable to expand production onto otherwise fertile land. Although agriculture employs 76 percent of the population, it accounts for less than 1 percent of total GDP and as of 2011, only 7 percent of total land in Laos is being used for agriculture.
It is within the United States’ interest to ensure a prosperous Laos, and addressing the issue of UXOs is the first step toward this direction. Laos will ascend to the ASEAN chairmanship in 2016, and like its predecessors Brunei and Myanmar, will be well-poised to influence the agenda in the region. To this end, the UXO issue is low-hanging fruit that yields high dividends in terms of both developmental and political gains.  The United States has the chance to construct a new legacy in Laos, and for a host of reasons, it should seize the opportunity.
Image courtesy of Flickr under creative commons license.
Elena Rosenblum is a researcher for the Project on U.S. Leadership in Development at CSIS 

July 29, 2014

Press Conference: Advocates Call for End of U.S. Support of African Tyrants

IPS' Foreign Policy In Focus joins a diverse U.S. based activist coalition focusing on Africa is calling on U.S. leaders to cease their support and empowerment of brutal dictators across Africa.

A diverse U.S. based activist coalition focusing on Africa is calling on U.S. leaders to cease their support and empowerment of brutal dictators across Africa. The Coalition will host a press conference ahead of the first ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit to take place in Washington, DC in early August.
The Coalition will focus on U.S. support for strongmen in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The people of these countries have been caught in a dictatorial death trap since the Clinton Administration that has resulted in millions dead due to wars of aggression and internal repression. The U.S. has dubbed these tyrannical strongmen, a “new breed” of “Renaissance” leaders of Africa in spite of the havoc they have wreaked on the African continent. Other heads of state from Ethiopia, Egypt and elsewhere on the continent will also be addressed during the press conference. A special focus will be placed on heads of state who are seeking to change their constitutions to remove term limits so they can remain in power in perpetuity.
Paul Rusesabagina (who performed Raul Wallenberg-type heroics during the 1994 Rwandan genocide and whose story has been captured in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”) is expected to lead the appeal in calling for an end to the support the U.S. provides to these African strongmen. Other expected speakers include: Congolese human rights activist Nita Evele; genocide survivor Claude Gatebuke; and Ugandan Publisher Milton Allimadi.
Co-sponsors: Coalition members include: Africa Faith and Justice Network (AFJN); African Great Lakes Action Network (AGLAN); Don’t Be Blind This Time; Foreign Policy in Focus; Friends of the Congo (FOTC); Hope Congo (HC); Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation (HRRF); Mobilization for Justice and Peace in Congo (MJPC) and la Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH).


July 31
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Event Category:


National Press Club
529 Fourteenth Street NW,Washington, DC 20045 United States
+ Google Map

July 25, 2014

MAG - Focus on Vietnam

Two more children die 40 years later

I have worked for seven years for MAG in Quang Binh as a Community Liaison Officer, and have heard about so many accidents in the poor villages: two 14-year-old boys, one killed and one badly injured when they set off a submunition in the schoolyard; a man, who is still suffering from the ballbarings pinned in his body as a result of an explosion; three children, one killed and two injured when they were trying to help their poor parents by risking their lives to collect the scrap metal. I have never witnessed the accidents, but could feel how terrible they were through the conversations with the victims or their families. Yesterday, this changed when an accident occurred 2 km from where I was working - an accident that killed two children, aged 9 and 5, in front of their parents.

It was a hot summer day and our teams were collecting information about the location of unexploded ordnance in Dong Giang village, Hung Trach Commune when we received news that two brothers had been killed 2 km away - they had been tampering with a submunition in front of their house. We went to the site immediately. It was in a rundown house, surrounded by hundreds of people. I couldn’t tell who was the mother of the two kids, among the many crying women there, but one person pointed out the father, still recovering from a recent traffic accident. He couldn’t move, screaming on his knees: “Today is my sons’ first day of summer holiday. How painful! Why didn’t God let me die for my sons, why did he take my sons away? They were still so young.” I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face; my heart really hurt.

I saw the pliers and a pair of broken sunglasses that they used to tamper with the submunition, a pair of torn sandals, a hole on the floor, and the balls. I went closer to the bed in the center of the house where the remaining bodies of the two kids lay. Someone pulled the blanket up, revealing the two dead bodies - one had no head:  legs and hands were smashed and blown away. People were picking up pieces of flesh stuck on the wall to put in a bowl, placing it beside the bodies. What a terrifying scene. I closed my eyes, felling breathless, and ran out. People were crying louder and louder.

Above: Tools the kids used to tamper with the submunition
Why did these innocent kids have to die? The older brother was a good pupil at school. He was just nine years old but always tried to help his parents. Every day he walked far to bring back some clean water for the family and took care of his five-year-old brother while their parents were out: a bright future was ahead of them. But the legacy of the war, which ended 40 years ago, has taken their lives away.

I informed a victim assistance organization of the accident, so they might provide support to the family. I left MAG’s hotline number there, in case they needed help. This village was on our list for operations next month. I wished MAG had been there earlier; maybe this accident could have been stopped.

I suddenly thought of my three-year-old son. This should never happen again - I have to do something. I will start teaching my son the first lesson of mine risk education today.

By Mai Chi
MAG Vietnam CLO

July 24, 2014

MAG - Focus on Vietnam

For 25 years, MAG has been working to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance and, for 15 of those years, we have been in Vietnam. As a result, we have staff there who have spent their careers with MAG, working to make their country a safer place.
Most of the stories in this newsletter are written directly by those staff, so you can hear their voices as they represent MAG’s life-saving and life-changing two-fold approach – how we are the necessary first step in development for the poorest communities in Vietnam and how we represent hope for the wounded and families of the dead – hope that we can finally stop children from being killed from bombs from over 40 years ago.

Helping the Poorest Farmers in Vietnam
by Le Van Minh, Community Liaison Officer, MAG Vietnam
"I didn’t know what happened. There was a very big bang and I found myself covered in blood. I could hear people around me discussing how to take me to the hospital. The village was even poorer then: there was no ambulance, no taxi, no motorbike, not even a bicycle. They had to carry me in a hammock for 25 kilometers to the nearest medical facility. My hands had been blown off and my body was riddled with shrapnel.”
Pictured here is Nguyen Dinh Thu, whose family is one of 700 households in my home province of Quang Tri to benefit from a sustainable agriculture development project, undertaken by MAG and one of our development partners, Roots of Peace. Thu knows the danger of UXO very well. The above quotation describes his experience when he was 21, and his hoe struck a bomb that had stayed undisturbed for 13 years, since the end of the war.
MAG cleared Thu's land in Son Ha village in 2012, removing 11 unexploded ordnance (UXO) items, enabling him to plant pepper trees so that he can earn a living with his wife and two children.
Pepper is a traditional crop and an important industry here in Quang Tri, due to its suitability to the local weather and soil. Pepper from the province is prized in Vietnam and around the world, and has a high value on the market.
However, many of the most suitable areas for cultivating pepper remain contaminated by UXO left over from the Vietnam War and, due to the farming technique required (digging of trenches up to one metre deep), most pepper farmers underuse the land because of the high risk of UXO accidents.
"We will use the additional income to send our children to school" 
Thu’s land was identified as a priority for the project that aims to produce commercial crops for the poorest farmers in the area. In total, MAG cleared 9,721m² of land at 17 pepper plantation areas, from May to August 2012, finding and destroying 69 UXO items.

Quang Tri Province, Vietnam
Roots of Peace then helped with seeds and fertilizer, as well as technical support to the farmers. On the cleared plantations, 1,043 one-year-old pepper plants are now growing well, and in two years, the first crop will be harvested.
"We will use the additional income to send our children to school," Thu told me.
MAG's work promotes development in Vietnam. New houses have been built, and new schools and roads constructed, on the land cleared by MAG.

June 2014

7 Faces of Vietnam
All photos: Sean Sutton/MAG
The Vietnam War ended in 1975, but explosive weapons dropped on the country continue to devastate lives to this day.
Countless unexploded bombs, missiles, artillery shells, mortars and grenades still pose a risk of detonation [There is no precise estimate of how much contamination remains*] – killing and maiming men, women and children.
This unexploded ordnance (UXO) also restricts access to agricultural land, and affects the construction of housing, roads and other infrastructure – stifling development and keeping communities in poverty.
Hear from some of the people affected below...
* Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor

1) Eighty-year-old Mrs. Hoang remembers the Vietnam War and its aftermath well...
"I was here in this village 30 years ago," she said. "There were holes and craters everywhere. The authorities gave me a plot of land to grow rubber trees. When I went there I saw bombies [cluster submunitions] everywhere, so I asked for another plot.
"The other plot was much further away from the village and I discovered it was even worse! An old man helped me: he picked up all the bombs and buried them in a hole."
[Quang Binh province]

(2) A grieving mother...
Thai's son, Vu, was killed when he set off a BLU3/B cluster submunition in the schoolyard.
His friend, Nam, was injured in the same explosion: "Vu called me over to see something he had found. It was metal and was a yellow color. He started to poke it with a nail and there was a big explosion. I felt pain in my body. I didn’t know what had happened.
"Vu was on the ground with holes in him. I had blood coming out and was shocked. I arrived at hospital and, since then, it has been terrible. My friend is dead."
"It is so unfair," said Nam's mother. "He's just a boy and he didn’t know. He didn’t know it was a bomb. He didn't know it would blow up." 
[Quang Binh province]

(3) Tung Van Duc used to collect scrap metal – a deadly business in Vietnam...
"The accident happened on December 13, 2004. I was a farmer, but found it hard to support my family, so I collected scrap metal as well. I knew the job could be dangerous, because I knew several people that had been killed [in unexploded ordnance accidents] doing it.
"On the day of my accident, I was working with my metal detector and found a grenade about 30cm deep in the ground. It was aluminium, so it was valuable. I didn’t know that this grenade was still dangerous.
"I brought it home and used my hammer to open it up, to get the aluminium. It exploded and the next thing I remember was being in hospital. I felt a lot of pain and couldn’t see.
“It wasn’t until a while later that I was told that my wife and one of my sons had also been injured. My wife had shrapnel in her lungs and legs. My son, who was 10, was less seriously injured.
"Since then, life has been very hard. We are the poorest family in the village. I can’t do anything. I can’t see. My wife can’t do heavy work and still suffers pain, but she has to do the farming.
"My son never went to school after the accident. He has never been the same since that day – he has been traumatized. He's able to do some laboring work, but he can’t do much.
"I still keep my detector: it is a reminder of that terrible day; a reminder that things will never be the same."
[Quang Nam province] 
(4) Duong, mother of three, has been working for MAG for 13 years...
"I wanted to remove UXO [unexploded ordnance]. There is still so much UXO after the war, and we need to make land safe for families and for the country.
"Before working for MAG, life was very difficult for my family. I didn't have a job and my husband's work in a cement factory paid him very little. When I started this job, my family was very worried because of the danger, but now they understand and are very proud of me.
"We've been able to buy a small plot of land, and my children all go to school. They have notebooks and other things that they need. Life is good and I'm happy.
"I'm proud, as a woman, to do this work. After work, I have to go to the market and look after the children [her children are aged four, 12 and 16]. When I'm working, my grandmother looks after them."
[Quang Tri province] 

5) Mrs. Nguyen's land was cleared by MAG...
This photo was taken shortly after MAG had checked Mrs Nguyen’s land to make sure it was clear of unexploded cluster submunitions ["bombies", to the locals].
"My son found bombies and mortars here, so I’m so happy that it’s safe and we can extend our house," she said.
[Quang Nam province]

(6) Mr. Nam found a mortar bomb in his garden...
He is convinced there are more bombs under the ground: "I am too frightened to use the land. When MAG has finished clearing it, I'll grow vegetables to begin with, and then extend my house. I have three children and when they get bigger, we'll need more space."
[Quang Nam province] 

(7) One of the many beneficiaries of MAG's work in Vietnam...
More than 600,000 people directly benefited from our work to make lives and land safe in Vietnam, during 2013. 
[Quang Nam province]

July 21, 2014

Online School for Girls puts focus on connection, collaboration

Xochitl Green in the computer lab at Marlborough School. She took an Online School for Girls class in Advanced Placement psychology, which was not offered at the school. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)


Much to English teacher Ed Raines' surprise, his students had never heard Puccini's soaring melodies that inspired David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly," nor the way Louis Armstrong could make a trumpet talk in Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man."
In the middle of a faculty meeting at Westridge School in Pasadena, he passed his colleague, a music teacher, a note. "What if we could build an entire curriculum based on pairing music and English together?" recalled Leo Kitajima, the music instructor who had visited Raines' classroom to discuss musical references in literature.
Last year, the teachers found a way to make their dream course a reality when Westridge became part of Online School for Girls, a nonprofit consortium of independent schools dedicated to educating girls. It's grown to include more than 80 schools that will offer about 1,050 enrollments this year to middle and high school students.
As educators, we need to decide where
 we fit in that landscape. I felt like it was time to ante in
 or we were going to fall behind.
- Director of Westridge's Upper School Margaret Shoemaker

Paid by the online school, Raines and Kitajima built the course on their own time. Advanced Placement English Literature and Composition: The Music of Literature will be offered for the first time this fall.
Westridge is one of eight schools in Los Angeles County offering the online classes. The others are Marlborough School, the Archer School for Girls, Campbell Hall, Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, Louisville High School, Marymount High School and Yeshiva of Los Angeles Girls High School. To join, schools pay a one-time fee that's adjusted according to their size, and some help students pay tuition, which costs $1,419.75. Students outside the consortium can take the classes by paying a fee of $1,577.50.

The schools say that the cost is worth it and that they chose the 5-year-old Online School for Girls over other online options because it shares the same philosophies in teaching girls through creativity, practical lessons and by building bonds.

"In so many instances, technology is a distraction to relationships," said Jemma Giddings, Westridge's assistant head of school, but with Online School for Girls, "the emphasis is on connection and the emphasis is on collaboration. That's the intersection right where Westridge lives."
Online School for Boys will launch this fall and will pair with independent boys schools that educate their students with a focus on trust, purpose and character.
Margaret Shoemaker, director of Westridge's Upper School, said she was excited to have more opportunities for blended learning, or a mix of digital and in-class instruction, after attending an education technology conference.

"As educators, we need to decide where we fit in that landscape," Shoemaker said. "I felt like it was time to ante in or we were going to fall behind."
By separating them according to sex
 you're really acting as though all girls
 are the same or all boys are the same.
- Diane Halpern

Westridge encourages its students to enroll in the online courses if they have a scheduling conflict or a special interest that's beyond the scope of its offerings on campus. They are taught by other independent, specially trained instructors from across the country and the world, including such places as Albania, Taiwan and Uganda. Classes are capped at 20 students each — setting the program apart from other online providers that don't limit enrollment.
Teachers upload lecture videos that students watch at their convenience. Girls complete homework assignments in a variety of formats such as audio, video or text, and upload them online. Classmates can share feedback on assignments in real time through a video chat, or by saving comments that can be accessed later.

In many cases, students take courses to "go beyond," says Online School for Girls Executive Director Brad Rathgeber. Courses such as psychology and computer science are especially popular among girls who are aiming to take Advanced Placement exams. Classes also prepare them for challenges outside of school.
Xochitl "Xochi" Green, an incoming senior at Marlborough School in Hancock Park, aspires to be a psychiatrist or neuroscientist. This summer, she said, she impressed her boss at a psychiatry internship with her newfound knowledge from an Online School for Girls AP psychology course.
"I really enjoyed the material in the class. I find myself talking about it all the time and using it," Xochi, 17, said. "Right away I could use some of the terminology I'd learned."

Online School for Girls stands out because it is specifically designed with girls in mind, Rathgeber said.
"It started with the idea that if you believe there's a power to creating single-gender classes on physical campuses, that could be translated to the online medium," Rathgeber said in a phone interview from Washington, D.C.

Not all support a single-gender model. Diane Halpern, dean of the College of Social Sciences at the Minerva School at the Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont, coauthored a study that found academic performance is more closely aligned with socioeconomic circumstances, as opposed to whether a student is a boy or girl, and that single-sex education reinforces stereotypes.
"By separating them according to sex you're really acting as though all girls are the same or all boys are the same," Halpern said, adding that girls and boys alike can benefit from certain lessons. "Everyone needs to learn how to collaborate. Everyone needs to learn how to compete."
Erica Wu, who just graduated after supplementing her senior year with an Online School for Girls computer science class, said she appreciated having only female classmates at Westridge.
"The great thing about a girls-only school is that people are very open and not afraid to be judged by boys," Erica said.

But the 18-year-old didn't think it was essential to take the online classes with only girls; being behind a computer screen makes everyone more confident to share ideas regardless of gender, she said.
As a competitive athlete (she just returned from the U.S. Open for table tennis in Michigan and was one of the youngest athletes at the 2012 Olympics in London), she found the flexibility of the Online School for Girls to be invaluable.

"Online school worked perfectly with my schedule, because if I was out of the country, I could submit online. At school it fit in because if I didn't have class, I could go do computer science," Erica said.
She said the Online School for Girls enhanced her Westridge experience, but she wouldn't want it as a complete replacement.
"Online school is great," Erica said, "but there's also something to be said about being with your friends, having that face-to-face contact."
Twitter: @haydensaraa

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

July 10, 2014

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

Statement by NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy

Today at a review conference in Maputo, Mozambique, the United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines (APL) in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire.  Our delegation in Maputo made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention—the treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of APL.  They also noted we are conducting a high fidelity modeling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of APL.  Other aspects of our landmine policy remain under consideration and we will share outcomes from that process as we are in a position to do so.  
The United States shares the humanitarian goals of the Ottawa Convention, and is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, providing more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs.  We will continue to support this important work, and remain committed to a continuing partnership with Ottawa States Parties and non-governmental organizations in addressing the humanitarian impact of APL.