Dong Ha City, Quang Tri Province, 07 November 2012
An explosion of wartime ordnance at 08:00 a.m. today killed a 60-year-old metal collector in Dong Ha City. Mr. Dao Mua, the father of three children, died on the spot as he searched for scrap metal on a plot of land in Khe Lap Block of Ward 3, where vegetation had been burned off to prepare for new planting.
Doan Van Khoa, a first medical responder who lives nearby, heard the explosion and rushed to the accident scene, hoping he could provide first-aid to any victims of the explosion.
“I was working in my house when I heard the bang,” Khoa said. “I ran to the scene but couldn’t do anything. He had died before I arrived.”
Dao Mua was one of a number of scrap collectors still operating in Quang Tri Province Dao Mua had earned his living collecting scrap and had been involved in this dangerous occupation for almost 20 years.
Because he had no motorbike, every day Dao Mua walked from his home in Ward 4 of Dong Ha City to any place where he could find scrap. On a lucky day, he could get collect about 15 kg of metal and sell them for 40,000VND (less than $2.00 USD).
“Yesterday he came home without any money,” commented a woman who came to the accident scene. “Today he found something, but he died.”
According to Mr. Le Trinh, a resident of Ward 4, the victim’s family is very poor. They have to take care of their 90-year-old mother while the eldest son is working in Laos, and one married daughter lives separately with their own families, and the other single daughter born 1980 also engages in searching for scrap. The house is not decent enough to be called a home, Trinh said.
Ward 4 of Dong Ha City may have the highest number of people who are engaged in the search for war scrap. Since 1994, about 20 people have been killed and 10 more injured looking for scrap or attempting to dismantle unexploded ordnance (UXO). In March 2012, a 44-year-old man, father of eight children, died at the hospital after a piece of ordnance exploded while he was trying to cut it apart at his home.
“Nobody can get rich by searching for war scrap – just a matter of buying some rice and clothes,” said Trinh, who spent seven years searching for scrap but then quit the practice after seeing that too many people had died.
From October to November 2012, a little more than one month, Quang Tri Province sustained three accidents that injured two persons and killed one. The first occurred on 2 October in Huong HoaDistrict, adjacent to the former Ta Con Airstrip (which Americans called Khe Sanh). The accident claimed the leg of a 17-year-old boy who was digging in the soil to plant coffee. The second accident on 29 October, in Trieu Phong District, resulted in severe injuries to a 67-year-old man who was attempting to dismantle UXO at his home to sell it for scrap.
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 factor that drives this dangerous occupation – prolong a situation that can only be reversed by strong intervention from Vietnamese authorities, donors, and NGOs.