Deadly business: collecting the remnants of war

By Kim Thuy, Hoang TaoMarch 24, 2016 | 04:51 pm PT
Although it is illegal to collect unexploded ordnance in Vietnam, for many locals in the northern province of Quang Tri the deadly debris has become a major source of income.

Nguyen Phuc has been working as a scrap metal collector for 15 years. During that time he has gathered countless tons of debris left from decades of war.

“About eight years ago, I used to collect up to 30 tons of bombs per day. Sometimes, even up to 40 tons per day,” Phuc said.

“However, the amount I collect these days has decreased significantly due to the drop in price and because these things have become more scarce recently.”


Phuc and the war-time scrap metal he collects to sell. Photo: Hoang Tao

Phuc’s scrap yard, where he stores his finds, has been the scene of three explosions since he started the business, but fortunately there have been no serious injuries.

Phuc said he only keeps the detonated bombs while the unexploded ordnance would be left in the forest.

Phuc's yard - video by Hoang Tao

Like Phuc, Le Thi Tan Be and her husband have been in the business for 15 years. She was seriously injured while collecting war debris. The accident happened two years ago and was the first she has suffered so far.

“We have to sort out bombs and munitions very carefully. The big ones are easy to tell if they are live or not. The danger mainly comes from small bombs which can be mistaken for shrapnel,” Be said.

For several years, the province has received support from humanitarian projects clearing the unexploded ordnance.

“They have trained scrap mental collectors to sort out bombs and they will help defuse the unexploded ordnance within 24 hours after being informed,” Nguyen Van Cuong, head of a bomb clearance unit in the province said.

Colonel Phan Thanh Quang, head of the police force in Huong Hoa district in Quang Tri province, said that many scrap storage sites were located near residential areas, posing a threat to people’s safety. However, he said there was no specific authorized agency responsible for the problem.

Quang Tri was the scene of fierce fighting during the war in Vietnam. It is estimated that more bombs were dropped in Vietnam than in all of Europe during World War II.

The province has the highest level of explosive debris contamination in the country, with nearly 84 percent of the total land area being affected, according to a report by the Ministry of Defense.

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