Trieu Phong District, Quang Tri Province, 30 OCT 2012
A 67-year-old man, father of a son and two daughters, and three grandchildren, on Monday afternoon suffered serious multiple injuries from unexploded ordnance (UXO) as the old man was attempting to dismantle it and sell it for scrap metal.
The explosion, around 05:00 p.m. yesterday, shocked residents of Nai Cuu Phuong Village, who rushed to the home of Bui Manh Thang and found him seriously wounded on the front porch of his house. Thang was transferred to Quang Tri Hospital for advanced trauma care. Surgeons had to amputate his right hand, and he also suffered severe injuries to his left hand, neck, jawbone, left knee and both feet.
According to Vo Phuong, a villager who lives near the house, Thang had been scavenging war scrap for years for additional income. Many times his grandchildren would be playing in the house while their parents were at work and their grandfather was dismantling UXO. This time, fortunately, the children were at school when the accident happened.
Early today, Project RENEW’s Community Support Team (CST), in coordination with the EOD Quick Response Team, arrived in the village to conduct a survey in and around the victim’s house. Numerous traces of explosives and fragments indicated that the man was trying to remove explosive charges from a cluster bomb, which blew up and caused another piece of ordnance nearby to detonate.
The RENEW teams found more than 100 items of UXO scattered in front of the house and in the garden. EOD Team Leader Mai Van Viet said the team would make sure all remaining UXO would be removed for safe disposal by the end of the day.
Located in the vicinity of the former Ai Tu Military Airfield and the Phoenix Hill Combat Base, Trieu Ai Commune was the scene of fierce ground fighting in wartime. Nai Cuu Phuong villagers say most of the hilly land of the village remains heavily impacted with UXO, and they have asked Project RENEW for cleanup assistance. Nguyen Duc Hoa, CST Team Leader, said that this accident and the many UXO they found at the man’s house and in the hilly areas around it point to the need for RENEW to undertake a full response to ensure the safety of other people here.
The accident is a grim reminder of the risks that some still take to retrieve scrap metal from dangerous ordnance so they can sell it for extra money. A survey of scrap metal collectors in the central region, conducted in 2008 by RENEW, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), and UNICEF, concluded that nearly all were aware of the risks they faced by engaging in such dangerous activity. However, those who continue to search for and cut apart scrap metal are driven by economic pressures. Poverty is the primary factor that keeps this activity going, despite the tragedies that often ensue, despite increasing public awareness of the danger, and even though the practice is illegal under Vietnamese law.
Since the war in Vietnam ended in 1975, scrap metal collecting has accounted for 34% of all accidents nationwide – more than a third of the 104,000 total number of people who have been killed or injured by unexploded ordnance. The huge amount of UXO still on the ground or just under the surface throughout the central provinces of Vietnam, coupled with poverty – which is the leading cause of this dangerous occupation – prolong a situation that can only be reversed by strong intervention from Vietnamese authorities, donors, and NGOs.
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