We missed out Laos on our last trip, it was monsoon season and we decided to go to Myanmar instead, so we were happy to get the time to fit it in on this trip.
There wasn’t a lot to do in the capital Vientiane, but an interesting place to visit is the COPE centre. About a twenty minute walk out of town, this small exhibit is dedicated to victims of unexploded bombs or UXOs from the Vietnam war.
Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world per capita in history.
Over 2 million tonnes of ordinance were dropped over Laos during the Vietnam war, in over 580,000 bombing missions – the equivalent of one bombing mission every 8 minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years. It’s extremely difficult to comprehend.
Around 30% of the bombs failed to detonate, leaving approximately 80 million unexploded bombs in the country. More than 50,000 people in Laos have been killed or injured as a result of this, with 20,000 of those after the war ended in 1973. Hundreds of casualties still occur annually, due to farming, heating the ground while cooking, and accidents while searching for scrap metal – many of these children.
COPE is a not-for-profit organisation that provides rehabilitation services to those who are injured and support to the families of those killed due to UXO. Many people are poor farmers who live in the countryside, that can’t afford medical care. COPE provide prosthetic limbs to anyone that has been affected in this way free of charge.
The centre is really worth a visit and you can see all of the make-shift limbs that people made for themselves before they found the organisation. It’s free to look around but they accept donations.