Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

By Xavier Bourgois   October 14, 2016 | 03:05 pm GMT+7
41 years after the war, un-exploded ordnance continues to kill and maim in Vietnam.
Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

A group of de-miners fights, every day in Quang Tri Province, to bring peace to the country's narrow middle. During a morning briefing, each de-miner confirms his blood type to the team's paramedic and stands for a review of security protocols. On this battlefield, a single mistake could be fatal. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

A dozen young men and women gather by the side of the road at dawn in Cam Lo Township. Dressed in the same beige uniform and armed with shovels, rope, colored stakes and metal detectors, they await instruction from their supervisor. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

Slowly, as the sun rises, the team quietly walks single-file to a contaminated site. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

Today’s clearance effort covers about one square kilometer paddy fields. The team has already discovered an unexploded mortar shell and two cluster bombs. As they comb the field, their metal detectors emit a rhythmic, high pitched chatter. Today, they will no doubt find more. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

Time passes slowly in the field. The team has deemed the few cluster bomblets they've located too unstable to remove; so they will destroy them by detonation. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

The tiny bomblets the de-miners must contend with are the worst. It takes a perverse ingenuity to design a device that spring from a mother pod: an elongated canister that opens, in midair, after being dropped from an airplane. Each pod realeased 600 individual bomblets, each smaller than a baseball, that fly out in all directions, blanketing an area the size of three football fields. Each bomblet contains its own explosive charge that will send shrapnel flying into anything in their path. As the duds rust away in the ground, some become inert, while other become unstable. You never know which. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

“4…3…2…1… Fire!” shouts the team leader before detonating charges that destroy the buried bomblets. Cows and water buffalo graze indifferently in the field beyond. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

When the beige uniforms present themselves, they are quickly joined by small groups of kids who lead them to the corner of a cemetery waiting to be cleared. Following the Miners Advisory Group (MAG) and the Norwegian Peope's Aid's (NPA) team for a single day shows the incredible scale of the work that remains ahead of them. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

All the experts agree: no one could clear the region of all its war remnants. Instead, a raft of different NGOs on the ground coordinate with local residents and authorities to address the most urgent threats. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

In some villages, cluster bombs and mortars sometimes lie less than a meter from a busy road. This rusted mortar was found by a small group of kids. It will be removed and destroyed at a secondary site. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

Getting rid of the unexploded ordnance (UXO) “is an ongoing, dynamic process,” Resad Junuzagic says. For a long time, people spoke of removing every last piece of ordnance from Vietnam's fields. But that’s impossible. What’s realistic, he said, is to make the country safe -- in the way that Europe is now safe, even if construction workers in London or Berlin still encounter the odd dud left over from World War II. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

Cleaning up after war: Vietnam's de-miners at work

Somewhere in Quang Tri Province, a muffled and powerful explosion erupts, immediately followed by another, shaking the ground. Streaks of smoke stretch into the sky like arrows, followed by a black plume illuminated by a thousand sparks. (...) The bombs that the team of the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) has just destroyed won’t kill anymore. Photo by VnExpress/Xavier Bourgois

 
go to top