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MAG helps secure safety of UNESCO World Heritage site

By: MAG Posted: August-03-2009 in
Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park - Photo MAG Vietnam

Spectacularly beautiful, featuring towering limestone formations and pristine forests, it’s no surprise that Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province is a UNESCO World Heritage site attracting around 300,000 visitors a year.

But until recently communities there could not access all the agricultural land they needed as it was heavily contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Mr. Nguyen Xuan Doan, who lives within the park, remembers: “We never dared to dig the ground too deeply because there was so much UXO.

"Even though we did not have enough land to cultivate, we did not dare to use [some] areas because so many bombs were dropped.”

The area was a target for US bombers during the Vietnam war (known in Vietnam as the ‘American War’), as the North Vietnamese army established a base there, using many of the 300 caves and grottoes hidden amongst the limestone for ammunition storage, a hospital and a supply depot.

With funding from the US Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, MAG first worked in the national park in 2004 and undertook various clearance tasks in the years that followed.

A total of 1,727 items of UXO were found and destroyed, all from land belonging to communities living within the park. Five communes were designated as being at high risk from UXO.

Your donation to MAG helps us to move into current and former conflict zones so that communities who have suffered from remnants of conflict can continue to rebuild their lives and secure their livelihoods.

The work included clearing two primary schools. “One hundred and fifty-nine items of UXO were removed from school grounds,” says MAG Vietnam’s Country Programme Manager Jimmy Roodt. “The children can play outside in safety now.”

The project formally ended in October 2007, but MAG has continued to respond to emergency requests, clearing an additional 24 items over recent months.

“Each new rainy season uncovers more items dropped decades ago,” explains Ms Nguyen Ngoc Lan, MAG’s Technical Operations Officer in Quang Binh. “It should also be noted that two thirds of the additional items found were from a local scrap yard.”

Collecting UXO for scrap metal is a deadly trade.

“Our income is very low,” says Mr. Nguyen Van Thich, leader of one of the villages in the park. “Many villagers choose to collect scrap metal and often cut open bombs they find. This is very dangerous, and many of them have been injured or killed.”

Now that community members have safe agricultural land, MAG hopes that the number of people collecting scrap metal in the park will decrease.

Says Mr Thich: “MAG brings the best solution to the problem and safety to the local residents."

Tourism in the park has boomed since the UNESCO listing in 2003, but improving people’s lives is only possible if the area is free from the legacy of war.

Source: MAG International


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