Laotian Time Bombs: A war’s explosive environmental legacy (Sierra Magazine, Feb. 2011)

Maybe we didn’t focus enough on these deadly little guys in our many presentations of our In Search of Shangri-La adventure. We got lost for two days along a little traveled branch of the Hoh Chi Minh trail in Laos, and we probably stepped over some of these, or phosphorus bombs or worse. We knew the risks, many kilometers beyond the last of the bomb clearing units, but had to push through the jungle toward Vietnam or run out of food and water.

Our risk was nothing compared to the average Laotian farmer, wandering children, firewood gathering women, who know every single day of their lives, that their next footstep could mean death, or for some worse, maiming, in a poor country where everyone must contribute.

Some facts: 270 million of these bombies were dropped on a country the size of Utah. Of the more than 50,000 people killed or maimed by the bombings, 20,000 have occurred after the end of the war. An average of one person a day is killed or maimed in Laos now, nearly 40 years later. I could go on, but I suggest you go the the January/February 2011 Issue of Sierra Magazine for Karen Coates’ excellent, if short, story. I want to know more about this chapter of our history, a chapter I might have taken part in except for a bleeding ulcer.

Lost in Laos on a branch of the old Ho Chi Minh trail

Read more about our Laos adventure and more on our In Search of Shangri-La bicycle journey.


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